My colleague, Peter Murphy, was invited to speak at a recent Connecticut Bar Association panel about the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. Peter is well-versed in the intracacies of the agency and I asked Peter to share his insights from the panel discussion below.
As Dan noted in a recent blog post, I was a panelist at a CBA program entitled “CHRO 101 – From Complaint to Public Hearing.” Other panelists were Judge Henry S. Cohn, Mary Kelly from Livingston Adler Pulda Meiklejohn & Kelly PC, Hartford, and Michele C. Mount, a CHRO Public Hearing Referee.
The turnout was great, and the panel provided discussed each stage of the complaint-handling process at the CHRO. Although impossible to summarize every topic discussed by the panel that night, there are several topics that merit discussion in this blog post.
What should be included in the complaint was, appropriately, the first topic of discussion. Plaintiffs have wide latitude here, both in regard what facts and what protected categories to include in the complaint.
The CHRO recently added a fillable complaint form to its website, which lists all potential protected categories and lets plaintiffs decide how many to check. The attorneys on the panel agreed, however, that including too many protected categories or too many facts (especially untimely ones) can be a disservice to Plaintiffs.
Attendees also heard about a similar concern facing employers, who need to provide a well-written, informative answer to the complaint, yet who has to balance that need against the numerous reasons for limiting information presented at that early stage of the proceedings. Experienced employment lawyers can counsel both plaintiffs and employers on these decisions under the facts and circumstances of each particular case.
Another topic of discussion was the still relatively new program called Early Legal Intervention. At this time, there still does not appear a consensus as to why cases are referred to Early Legal Intervention by the Commission itself, how beneficial it has been to a party that has requested it, or what decisions are being issued by the Legal Division in such cases.
It appears that this is one area where additional information and guidance is needed from the CHRO.
Finally, there was an interesting discussion as to merits of proceeding to a public hearing or pulling the case and going to court before a reasonable cause determination–yet another decision that plaintiffs control.
This decision is important for a number of reasons. One such reason is the evidentiary rules applicable to public hearings, which attendees learned are substantially more relaxed than the Rules of Evidence applicable to court proceedings. Indeed, Hearing Officer Mount cautioned the attendees against filing motions in limine and against objecting to broad classes of evidence, noting that such motions are routinely denied at the Public Hearing stage.
I thank Peter for sharing his thoughts from the panel presentation.