Case Of The Week

Court To Consider 'Perceived Disability' Bias Claim

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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The Law Tribune previews important or interesting cases most weeks that the state Appellate Court or the state Supreme Court are in session.

Case: Mirielle Desrosiers v. Diageo North America, et al.

Court: Supreme Court

Date: Jan. 15

Time: 11 a.m.

Attorneys: John Bochanis, Kenneth Gage

Summary: A woman who claims she was fired from her job because of a perceived disability and not an actual disability is challenging rulings by a trial judge and the Appellate Court, both of which dismissed the claim on grounds that state statutes protect only those discriminated against for actual disabilities.

Background: Mirielle Desrosiers began working for Fairfield County-based Diageo North America in 1993. Within her particular department in the company, she was the only black employee. After working for the company for about a decade, she claims her new boss went out of her way to single her out and pick on her more so than her colleagues.

Desrosiers is of Haitian heritage and her boss often complained that she could not understand what Desrosiers was saying. The boss allegedly often made Desrosiers rewrite emails and criticized her communication skills.

In the fall of 2004, Desrosiers was placed on a 90-day probationary period following a poor review. She claims to not have previously received poor reviews.

By November 2004, a company manager told her she was no longer on probation and that her work progress was satisfactory. Desrosiers then used her fourth of four allotted vacation weeks that year -- company policy barred vacation time from being carried over to the next year. Upon her return, Desrosiers told her manager that she needed surgery on a tumor on her right shoulder. She asked if a date in January 2005 was OK. Her supervisor agreed.

The next day, the supervisor let Desrosiers leave early to pick up her child, whose school had early dismissal due to inclement weather. The boss asked Desrosiers to call into work once she got home. When Desrosiers did so, she was fired over the phone.

In a subsequent meeting after the termination, a human resources person told Desrosiers that she was fired for not successfully completing her probationary period. Desrosiers then hired a lawyer and sued the company for discrimination based upon race, color, age, and physical disability, including perceived physical disability. The latter allegation was apparently linked to Desrosiers' announcement to her supervisor that she needed surgery.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of her employer with regard to the alleged perceived disability claim, finding that Connecticut does not recognize a cause of action for discrimination based on a perceived physical disability. A jury trial was held on the remaining counts, resulting in a defense verdict. Desrosiers appealed, arguing that a claim for discrimination based on a perceived physical disability exists under Connecticut law.

The Appellate Court, however, disagreed with her, affirming that state statute protects only those who actually have some type of physical disability. The woman again appealed and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

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