Wrongful Termination Suit Filed By AutoZone Employee

DiscriminationDefWrongful Termination Suit Filed By AutoZone Employee

A woman who claims that she was discriminated against by her former employer, the automobile parts chain AutoZone, because she is black and practices the Rastafarian religion is asking the state’s highest court to reinstate her lawsuit.

Doris Feliciano, born in the U.S. Virgin Islands, is black and practices the Rastafarian religion. As part of her religion, she wears her hair in dreadlocks.

Feliciano was employed at AutoZone, first as a sales clerk and later as a supervisor. During her employment she was transferred to the chain’s Bloomfield store. While she was a supervisor there in 2005, Michael Balboni became manager of the store.

At the time, AutoZone had a customer loyalty reward card program for customers who made frequent purchases. In May 2007, AutoZone’s automatic loss prevention computer program flagged 20 transactions involving the same customer’s loyalty card number. Nineteen of the 20 transactions were processed by Feliciano.

A loss prevention specialist was tabbed by the company to investigate the matter. Feliciano’s story was that her customer service number was available in the store’s computers for other employees to use. The investigton results were sent to AutoZone’s staff attorney in Tennessee, who determined that Feliciano should be fired.

Feliciano filed a wrongful termination complaint with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities which claimed she was terminated on the basis of her national origin, religion and race. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission later issued a notice of right to sue. That allowed Feliciano to bring her claim in Superior Court under the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act.

In her wrongful termination lawsuit, Feliciano alleged that store manager Balboni constantly harassed her by making offensive comments regarding her appearance in front of other employees; she said he would wear a dreadlock wig and call her a thief. Further, she claimed Balboni sexually harassed her by rubbing up against her body when he would walk past her. She also claimed Balboni failed to reasonably accommodate her on the job when she suffered a foot injury.

AutoZone filed a motion for summary judgment on all five counts of the wrongful termination lawsuit, which was granted by the trial judge in Hartford Superior Court. Feliciano then appealed.

The state Appellate Court then heard the case. In a decision released in May 2013, it upheld the trial court’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit. The judges ruled that Feliciano was terminated for the rewards card breach and that she failed to prove otherwise.

“The plaintiff… has failed to produce any countervailing evidence connecting Balboni’s allegedly discriminatory actions and statements with the defendant’s decision to terminate her,” wrote Judge Joseph Flynn. “The plaintiff has not produced countervailing evidence showing that Balboni participated in the investigation that led to her termination or in the actual discipline decision.”

The judges also ruled that Feliciano failed to provide medical evidence that her foot injury rendered her disabled. Nor did she explain how Balboni’s alleged sexual harassment violated state statute, according to the Appellate Court.

Feliciano, represented by attorney Josephine Smalls Miller, of East Hartford, then asked the state Supreme Court to look at the case and the justices agreed. A hearing is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 1.

“The Appellate Court improperly engaged in either ignoring plaintiff’s evidence or discrediting her evidence that Balboni was involved in the investigation process,” Miller wrote in her brief to the justices. “The evidence that she presented was that Balboni had regularly accused her of being a thief and indeed had done so in the few weeks leading up to the purported automatic computer targeted investigation.”

Emery Harlan, of Gonzalez, Saggio & Harlan in Milwaukee, will argue the case on behalf of AutoZone. Proloy Das and Andrew Houlding, of Rome McGuigan in Hartford, also represent AutoZone in the case.

“Both the trial court and the Appellate Court properly determined that AutoZone was entitled to summary judgment based on the pleadings, affidavits and evidence in this case,” wrote the defense lawyers. “The Appellate Court’s decision should be affirmed in its entirety.”

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Article by Christian Nolan:  visit: www.ctlawtribune.com