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January 30, 2003

State finds merit in deaf worker's complaint

From: Journal Inquirer, CT - 30 Jan 2003

EAST HARTFORD - The state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities has concluded after an initial review that a complaint against the Public Works Department merits further investigation.
The complaint, brought by a mason, John Mazzarella, claimed department officials have discriminated against him because of a severe hearing defect and named both his union and the town as culprits.

The commission conducted an "initial merit review" which revealed "the allegations are such that they merit further investigation."

The investigator, Christopher Gemeasky, will likely attempt to bring both parties to the bargaining table even as he begins a fact-finding inquiry.

The commission has the authority to schedule mandatory mediation conferences, which both sides must attend. The commission cannot force either side to accept a mediated agreement, however.

The town and union can offer what is known as "whole relief." In that case, the town and the union would eliminate the discriminatory practices, take steps to ensure they do not occur in the future, and offer full relief in the form of back pay or other compensation.

If the commission determines that whole relief is offered, and Mazzarella does not accept it, the commission has the right to dismiss the complaint.

Meanwhile, the investigation could last as long as 12 months and will probably include fact-finding conferences, complete with witnesses and documentation from both sides to prove their case.

If reasonable cause is found and no settlement is reached, the case is forwarded to the state Office of Public Hearings. If no reasonable cause is found, the complaint is dismissed. Mazzarella could then ask for reconsideration or appeal the case to Superior Court.

The complaint stems from a May incident, when Mazzarella claims he was angrily confronted by another worker, Joseph Losty, "for no apparent reason."

After a meeting with town Personnel Director Steven Bielinda, Public Works Deputy Director Richard Toce, and local union president J.R. Manion, both men involved were issued verbal warnings, which stay in their record for two years.

Mazzarella grieved the warning but was denied by the town, prompting him to file the complaint.

In addition to accusing Losty of being motivated by discrimination, the complaint also holds that the town has not provided adequate training in order to ensure an comfortable workplace for Mazzarella in light of his disability.

Bielinda, however, said Mazzarella has never requested special treatment, which is required under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

©Journal Inquirer 2003