Johanna Zelman’s unique background in health and mental care and in school law results in highly competent, in-depth and knowledgeable advice and representation for her clients.

While she has represented a wide variety of private and public sector employers from various industries, Johanna has a specific strength and hands-on experience in the health and mental health fields. Prior to her legal career, she worked for Harvard University’s affiliate hospitals, where she had direct contact with patients being treated for mental health disorders; she also managed large federally and privately funded grants. In addition, she worked at the Center for Children’s Advocacy in Hartford, Connecticut and the University of Connecticut Health Center Department of Community Medicine. Her passion for health care is extremely helpful when handling issues involving the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and other behavioral or mental health issues arising in the employment setting.

Johanna is also very experienced in school law, representing public and private schools and colleges against claims involving both teachers and students.

Johanna is highly effective in defending fact-intensive and highly complicated counseling and litigation matters related to employment, general civil rights and Special Education.

Johanna has successfully defended public and private sector employers and governments before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut and the Connecticut Supreme, Appellate and Superior Courts. Additionally, she has represented employers and school districts before various state and federal administrative agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, the Connecticut State Department of Education the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Commission and the Department of Labor.

Representative Experience
  • Obtained summary judgment on claim pending against public school system that it failed to accommodate a first grade teacher in violation of the Americans with Disabilities and Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act who. Teacher had previously been in a car accident resulting in an above the knee amputation and he used a prosthetic limb. After he developed an ulcer on his amputated stump, he claimed that the only reasonable accommodation was a transfer to sixth grade. The court disagreed and held that the extended paid and unpaid leaves of absence provided to the teacher, along with two (2) aides in his classroom, while may not have been the accommodation the teacher wanted, satisfied the public school’s obligations to accommodate him. Summary judgment was also granted on a claim of retaliation for placing him on leave because it was merely a restatement of his failure to accommodate claim.
  • Obtained summary judgment on claim by a unionized tenured public school teacher who claimed that his employer violated the Substantive and Procedural Due Process clauses when he was suspended for 20 days after multiple students reported to administration that the teacher had used profanity and threatened then. The Court held that the teacher received all pre- and post- deprivation process due to him and that the substantive due process claim failed as a matter of law because the conduct alleged was not conscious-shocking and there was another specific constitutuional amendment that more appropriately addressed the conduct at issue. Breach of contract claim was previously dismissed because the teacher failed to exhaust his administrative by first brining a claim against his union for breach of the duty of fair representation.
  • Obtained dismissal of claim against public school system by tenured teacher alleging race discrimination pursuant to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because she had been provided a full evidentiary hearing lasting 13 days and been found incompetent and that there was other due and sufficient cause for her termination prior to termination and, therefore, in order to plead discrimination, she had to plead that there was a similarly situated Caucasian employee, not just that a Caucasian employee was hired to replace her, which the Court held was impossible to do; awarded sanctions under Rule 11 because Due Process claim was frivolous.
  • Conducted extensive review and audit of municipal civil service rules and hiring procedures and advised as to deficiencies during recent hiring process.
  • Successfully defended protective order filed to block employer from performing a mental fitness for duty examination on an employee exhibiting performance and behavioral concerns that lead to concerns about workplace safety.
  • Successfully defended municipal employer in First Amendment claim by police constable alleging that she was terminated in retaliation to a previously filed lawsuit alleging gender discrimination and harassment.
  • Obtained dismissal of state law constitutional and tort claims brought by a student and her parents against the public schools alleging that teachers attempted to indoctrinate the student and her two older sisters into a death cult. Issues of fact remained on federal constitutional claims.
Honors & Awards
  • Best Lawyers in America - Employment Law and Labor and Employment Litigation (2018)
  • "Connecticut Super Lawyers," Super Lawyers magazine (2013 – 2015).
  • "Connecticut Rising Stars," Super Lawyers magazine (2012).
  • AV® Preeminent Peer Review Rated by Martindale Hubbell.
News & Insights
  • Spanish (fluent)