I have written many times that Connecticut is a more favorable environment to pursue workplace discrimination claims than most other places. While all states are covered by federal anti-discrimination laws, Connecticut has its own state law – the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act – which enhances federal proscriptions against retaliation and discrimination in the workplace. And Connecticut lawmakers frequently tinker around the edges of the law to improve it for workers or to make it applicable to more workers.
The same is true in 2022. At the beginning of this month, the law was enhanced to provide greater protections to workers. Public Act 22-82 contains all the new provisions.
Under most federal laws, anti-discrimination policy applies only to employers with 15 employees or more. In Connecticut, an employer with just one employee can be held accountable for discrimination and retaliation. That makes sense. I know that there are policy reasons for only applying the law to larger employers, but if discrimination is wrong, it is wrong for all employers, not just those with 15 or more employees.
The new Connecticut law also adds another protected class of employees to the long list of those protected from discrimination. Connecticut has taken the lead nationally by extending anti-discrimination protections to survivors of domestic violence. Employers cannot make hiring or firing decisions because an employee has been subjected to domestic violence.
The law goes farther however by also requiring that employers allow domestic violence survivors with reasonable leaves of absence to address issues caused by domestic violence, including obtaining treatment for both mental and physical injuries. Along with these requirements, the employer must also ensure that the employee’s status relative to domestic violence is kept confidential.
The law does not say that the employer must keep the employee’s employment status confidential, but in keeping with the spirit of the law, the employer would be wise to consider maintaining confidentiality of the employee’s employment status in order to assist in maintaining the privacy of the victim.
The third and final change passed by the legislature is that elected or appointed governmental officials are now explicitly defined as “employees” entitled to protection under the law. This would include folks who volunteer on boards or commissions without pay. Prior to the passage of the law, commission members who serve without pay would not be entitled to protection.
Interestingly, one of the major components of compensation in a discrimination case is lost pay or benefits. It is difficult to see how an employee could gain compensation to any significant degree for discriminatory conduct in this environment. Still, it would remain important to hold supervisory staff accountable for discriminatory conduct, particularly in governmental services.
While these changes expand the protections for employees, none of the changes guarantee that an employee will be successful in pursuing a discrimination claim if or when it occurs. Employees still must meet strict standards of proof before they can collect on a discrimination claim and those standards remain stringent. Employers retain multiple defenses to defend against discrimination actions, and typically only those cases that show an intent to discriminate by the employer itself will find success.