While the headlines have been focusing on criminal justice reform and now the state’s projected deficit, a new "hate crime" bill  (S.B. 604) got passed and became a public act (P.A. 08-49) yesterday.  You can download it here.

The Act, which is effective October 1, 2008 is not found in Connecticut’s penal code per se, but is found with Connecticut’s discrimination statutes.  It amends Conn. Gen. Stat. 46a-58 to add new subparagraph (d). This paragraph makes it a "discriminatory practice", punishable as either a misdemeanor or class D felony, to display nooses or simulation of nooses. 

In relevant part, the revisions to the statutes are underlined:

(a) It shall be a discriminatory practice in violation of this section for any person to subject, or cause to be subjected, any other person to the deprivation of any rights, privileges or immunities, secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of this state or of the United States, on account of religion, national origin, alienage, color, race, sex, sexual orientation, blindness or physical disability.

(d) Any person who places a noose or a simulation thereof on any public property, or on any private property without the written consent of the owner, and with intent to intimidate or harass any other person on account of religion, national origin, alienage, color, race, sex, sexual orientation, blindness or physical disability, shall be in violation of subsection (a) of this section.

Why nooses? The Judiciary Committee’s report indicates that it would strengthen Connecticut’s hate crime laws. And indeed, in light of the Jena 6 incident last year, there seemed to be a greater recognition that nooses are particularly offensive to those in the African-American community, which is also noted in the report.  Indeed, the new law would, in essence, equate noose displays with cross-burning.

But the new act raises questions remains unanswered: Why include other categories that have nothing to do with race, including sexual orientation or blindness or physical disability (and why exclude mental disabilities?)   Isn’t the point of nooses is that it has some relation to the historic symbol of racial lynching?

And are there really any incidents were people are using nooses to intimidate people based on their gender? I believe the answer is essentially no. Indeed, even back in 2000, the EEOC noted that workplace noose incidents were related to racial harassment cases, not gender cases. What is also striking about the new law is that it contrasts with the cross-burning section which has no reference to protected categories.

Regardless, I’m sure it also won’t be too long before the statute is also used in employment discrimination cases to show Connecticut’s strong "public policy" against nooses — whether in the workplace or otherwise.  

And one point should continue to be emphasized for employers — these types of incidents should not be tolerated in the workplace.  If an employer in Connecticut does have an incident where a noose is displayed, the employer should seek prompt legal advice as to how to address the situation.