Rose Kallor LLP is pleased to announce that the Connecticut Appellate Court upheld the grant of summary judgment it had secured in 2021 for the City of Torrington.
Cooling v. City of Torrington concerned a disability discrimination claim by former police officer Jason Cooling in Connecticut state court.
Background and Superior Court Decision
Cooling had frequent absenteeism. Moreover, an internal investigation found that Cooling had used sick time in close proximity to paid time off in violation of his collective bargaining agreement. Cooling was subsequently reprimanded for this action and later informed the Town that he suffered from a disability. He alleged that the reprimand amounted to “discrimination.” Cooling also alleged that he had not been reasonably accommodated because the Town's proposed adjustment to his work schedule would have prevented his working with a K-9 unit. Cooling later voluntarily resigned to take a new position and alleged constructive discharge.
The Superior Court (J. Pickard) agreed that Cooling was reprimanded due to his “clear violation” of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and general orders, not on account of his disability. The Court found that the isolated incidents did not give rise to a hostile work environment. The Superior Court also agreed that Cooling had failed to demonstrate a work environment that was “so difficult or unpleasant that a reasonable person in the employee's shoes would have felt compelled to resign.”
Finally, the Superior Court reasoned that the City of Torrington had engaged in the interactive process required under the Americans With Disabilities (ADA) Act and had acted with “good faith and offered a reasonable accommodation.”
Appellate Court holding
On appeal, Cooling raised two issues: (1) that the Superior Court erred in concluding that he failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact that the City did not engage in the interactive process and that he did not present evidence to demonstrate that the city acted in bad faith; and (2) that the Superior Court erred in determining that Cooling failed to meet his burden that he had been subjected to a hostile work environment. The Appellate Court disagreed and affirmed the lower court ruling.
First, the Appellate Cout held that after Cooling had advised the City of the accommodation that he sought, the City offered him that exact accommodation. Cooling then denied the accommodation, believing it to be in bad faith because the accommodation would not allow him to remain a K-9 handler. The Court found that the record was “simply devoid of any evidence that the defendant failed to engage in good faith in the interactive process with the plaintiff to provide him with a reasonable accommodation.” Moreover, the Court concluded that an employer is not required to provide an employee with any particular requested accommodation, just that the accommodation be reasonable. Most importantly, the Court recognized that while typically whether an accommodation is reasonable and whether a party acted in good faith are typically reserved for the jury, there are instances where such determinations can be made by the court. “This does not mean, however, that a court cannot render summary judgment for a defendant if that defendant submits evidence that it engaged with the plaintiff in good faith or offered an accommodation that was per se reasonable because it was the very accommodation sought by the plaintiff, and the plaintiff fails to offer any contrary evidence in opposition to summary judgment.”
Second, Cooling identified a series of isolated incidents in an effort to establish a hostile work environment. The Appellate Court concluded that, as a matter of law, individually or in the aggregate, none of the alleged conduct was severe or pervasive enough to rise to the level of a hostile work environment. Moreover, each incident relied upon to support a claim of hostile work environment (for example, he alleged that he was aware of a photograph involving a photograph of him in the locker room with a pinhole in his face). must have some causal connection to discrimination. Here, Plaintiff failed to establish that any of the alleged conduct met the necessary severity and pervasiveness needed to avoid summary judgment.
You may have questions about disability accommodations. Please feel free to contact the attorneys in this case: Attorney Michael Rose, Attorney Megan Nielsen, or your regular Rose Kallor counsel.
About Rose Kallor:
Rose Kallor, LLP is a labor and employment law firm with offices in Hartford, Connecticut and New York, New York. Rose Kallor concentrates its practice in the representation of public and private-sector employers, individuals, and municipalities in the New England and New York Metropolitan area. Committed to high-quality, professional representation, the attorneys at Rose Kallor stand ready to provide legal counsel on all aspects of employment and labor law. For more about Rose Kallor, visit our website at https://www.rosekallor.com/.