Maintenance Worker: School District Fired Me Unfairly After I Hurt My Knee

A former New Canaan Public Schools maintenance worker has filed a complaint with the state that the district fired him unfairly on the basis of a “disability” he developed as a result of a work-related accident.

Franco Pirri of Wilton tore the meniscus in his left knee in October 2015, according to an affidavit with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

He returned to work at New Canaan High School after surgery, a few months later, and at that time the district “threatened that I could only return to work if I took a fitness for duty test” even though he could perform his job as a lead maintenance II worker “with limited accommodations,” according to the affidavit, filed by attorney David Rintoul of Bridgeport-based Zeldes, Needle & Cooper PC. The Board of Education has 30 days to answer the complaint, according to Rintoul’s filing, dated June 11.

After Pirri objected, the school “backed down from its demand” of a fitness test, it said.

“My knee continued to hurt, so after attempting cortisone shots and other conservative treatment methods, my doctor recommended I try using crutches to relieve the strain on my knees, which required that I take a leave from work.”

An employee of NCPS for about 12 years, Pirri underwent a second operation on the meniscus in September 2017, returning to work in November and “stating that my knee was at 75 percent, and that I could return to work except that I could not kneel,” according to the CHRO filing.

“I was able to perform the essential functions of my position without kneeling. Another employee in my job classification could not kneel and had been employed for many years.”

Yet on Nov. 21, he was called into a meeting with his employer, Pirri said in the affidavit.

“I told my employer that the restriction on kneeling was temporary,” he said. “My employer informed me that I could only return to work if I was 100 percent healed, and further told me that even if I submitted a 100 percent healed letter, they would not allow me to return to work.”

The school terminated him via a letter about two weeks later, and Pirri filed a grievance that the district denied in January. (The grievance is under appeal through Pirri’s union, the filing said.)

“Respondent discriminated against me by failing to afford me reasonable accommodations or engage in the process of discussing reasonable accommodation, and for firing me on the basis of my disability even when I had an unconditional return to work letter,” he said.

District officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

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