One of the underlying fears that many employers have is that anti-discrimination laws will eventually be interpreted so broadly, that they will be open to litigation even for the most remote possibilities.   Thus, the idea of "standing" (in essence, who has the "right" to sue another party) is one that can sometimes be used to prevent overreaching in employment law cases.

The Connecticut Supreme Court, in a decision to be officially released next week, has held that only employees (and not surviving spouses of employees) have standing to sue under the state’s anti-discrimination laws. In McWeeny v. City of Hartford, the Court fairly readily disposes of the claims by saying, in essence, the employment anti-discrimination laws cover, well, employees.

By its plain and unambiguous terms, § 46a-60 (a) (1) prohibits an employer from firing or refusing to hire or discriminating against any employee or prospective employee in the terms, conditions or privileges of employment. Thus, § 46a-60 (a) (1) pertains only to those persons who have sought or obtained an employment relationship with the employer alleged to have engaged in a discriminatory employment practice. The plaintiff does not fall within either of those categories.

In this case, a state court judge, Robert F. McWeeny sought various benefits as the surviving spouse of another state court judge.  The Supreme Court drops these facts to footnotes and discards the relevance of it : "The plaintiff is a judge of the Superior Court. His judicial position, however, is not relevant to this appeal."  That said, it’s certainly not everyday that a group of judges dismisses an appeal of one of their colleagues.

For employers, the case demonstrates an important rule of thumb: Not everyone who complains about discrimination is even covered by a state statute.    That is not to give employers a free pass to treat people unfairly, but it also means that to not overlook the obvious argument of standing when defending against a claim like this.