There’s No Reason to Make a Federal Case of It

         I have been practicing in the field of labor and employment law for more than 25 years of my almost 30-year legal career. My labor practice deals with representing labor unions and all the issues that arise between unions and management. My employment practice involves representing employees on matters as diverse as wrongful termination, unemployment, severance agreements, and discrimination.

         There are two different statutory schemes for alleging employment discrimination in Connecticut. There is federal protection through Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act that cover most employment discrimination claims affecting workers employed anywhere in the United States.  

         There is also the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act which applies to Connecticut employers and employees and is a state law prohibiting discrimination in the workplace.

         Often when discrimination occurs, employees can pursue claims under both the state and federal statutes. And while the laws are substantially like each other, they are applied differently. That is why I learned a long time ago that when I have a plaintiff who has faced discrimination in the workplace, I make every effort to keep the cases in state court under the state anti-discrimination laws, rather than pursue claims under the federal laws.

         Last month, the Connecticut Appellate Court reaffirmed for me that it makes good sense for employment discrimination claimants to pursue their state law claims. While some folks think that they need to “make a federal case” out of their workplace issues, I prefer the humble state courts to find justice for my clients.

         In the recent case from the Appellate Court, the court was called on to decide a case alleging disability discrimination. The plaintiff, who had significant hearing loss in each of her ears, claimed that she was denied employment by a health care agency because of her hearing disability. The employer claimed that the disability played no role in the decision to not hire the plaintiff. Rather, the employer argued that the plaintiff did not have a significant employment history, and her reliability seemed questionable.

         Based on the facts that were presented to the court, the judge agreed that the employer’s reasons for not hiring the plaintiff seemed legitimate. But in making his decision the judge determined that for the plaintiff to be successful in her claim she would have to prove that the sole reason for her denial of employment was her disability. The plaintiff argued that if her hearing disability was simply a factor, rather than the sole factor in the decision-making, she could prevail.

         Under federal law applying both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination Act, federal appellate courts have held that to be successful, a plaintiff must show that the discriminatory factor was the cause of the decision, not simply a cause.

         The Appellate Court agreed with the plaintiff and held that the less rigorous standard requiring simply that the discriminating factor be a motivating cause rather than the sole cause of the decision would be sufficient to support a claim of discrimination under state law.

         And because this less rigorous standard makes it easier for Connecticut plaintiffs to prove discrimination in the workplace, I adhere to the policy of bringing discrimination cases to state court under state law. I rarely make a federal case out of it.

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