Connecticut Employment Law Blog Insight on Labor & Employment Developments for Connecticut Businesses

New Laws Ban Civil Union Discrimination

Posted in Discrimination & Harassment, Laws and Regulations, Legislative Developments

Two years ago, when Connecticut passed a civil union law, there was ample amount of press on the changes to the various laws. But on July 10, a change to Connecticut’s employment laws took place with virtually no coverage.

Specifically, Public Act 07-245 amended the state’s employment laws to preclude discrimination in the workplace based on a person’s civil union status. These sections went into effect upon passage. Governor Jodi Rell signed the act on July 10, 2007, making these changes effective immediately.

The change itself should be relatively easy to incorporate. Employers in Connecticut might consider updating their EEO policies to include this new protected class.

What is odd about the new law is not the result, but the legislature’s method for doing so. Connecticut has long-separated out prohibitions on sexual orientation discrimination with its own statutory scheme in C.G.S. 46a-81c, separate and apart from its normal laundry list of protected categories present in C.G.S. 46a-60. Thus, "Marital Status" has always been listed in the laundry list but sexual orientation has not. The legislature added "civil union status" as a category under 46a-81c, not 46a-60, thus making it comparable to sexual orientation. 

The legislature also explicitly wrote that marital status is to be defined the same as civil union status for all other Connecticut laws, except when used in the laws regarding employment and housing discrimination.

Is this a distinction without a difference? Perhaps. But it is a convoluted way to write statutes and gives voice to the argument that the government is not treating civil unions the same as marriage. 

And if that were the end of the legislature’s maneuvers, that would be enough.

But effective October 1, 2007, a different public act will also impact discrimination claims. In Public Act 07-62, the legislature amended Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 46a-58 to make it a discriminatory practice for any person to subject any other person to the deprivation of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of this state on account of sexual orientation.

The bill’s analysis suggests that this statute:

gives the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) jurisdiction to investigate complaints of deprivations of rights, privileges, and immunities secured or protected by any state or federal law or constitution on the basis of sexual orientation. Thus, for example, it gives CHRO jurisdiction to investigate complaints of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation against students by public schools.

That may be true, but given that sexual orientation (and now civil unions) are decided under a different statutory scheme that other types of discrimination, the legislature has only made the hodgepodge of laws in the area more confusing by amending the statutes in different ways and inconsistently.

It’s time to revise Connecticut’s discriminatory practice laws to make them easy to understand and in one place. Otherwise, the legislature it just making more work for employment lawyers like myself.

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