Last week, I posted about the statistics released by the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.  (You can view the CHRO’s Annual Report here.)  Today, I continue to take a look behind the numbers and the implications for employers in Connecticut.

Among the most striking of the statistics is this fact: Human Rights Referees issued only six referee decisions for the entire fiscal year (2007-2008) that closed cases after public hearings. 48 other cases were closed through a stipulated agreement. 

Why is this number significant? Because there are seven human rights referees that are employed full-time by the State of Connecticut to handle these cases. (UPDATE: Although the statute does provide for seven, a reader noted that only five or six have actually been appointed — which may be a post for another day).   And yes, for those doing the math, that works out to about  one referee decision for each human rights referee for the entire year

Now you may be asking if 6 referee decisions is actually a lot when compared with past years. The answer is unequivocally no.  In 2000-2001, there were 87 public hearing referee decisions.  In 2002-2003, there were still 67 referee decisions.  Even for the year ending 2004-2005, 30 referee decisions were issued.  That’s a drop of over 90 percent since 2001.

Despite the decreasing numbers, effective July 1, 2004, the legislature approved of seven human rights referees to serve for three year terms (Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 46a-57.)  Unlike their predecessors (who served part-time), these human rights referees serve on a full-time basis.  (46a-57(b)). 

It’s obvious from the most recent numbers that a review of the staffing levels of the human rights referees is in order by the General Assembly — which is where the blame clearly lies for its passage of the statute requiring certain staffing levels.   Perhaps the General Assembly, which is looking for ways to trim the budget, can review the CHRO’s staffing levels and determine whether having five to seven full-time human rights referees who issue a total of six decisions in a year on public hearings is the best use of taxpayer funds.  (For a fairly scathing review of the CHRO, the Law Tribune has a column this week by Karen Lee Torre.)

What’s the takeaway on this for employers in Connecticut?

A few things:

  • Employers are unlikely to face a public hearing anymore at the CHRO.  In fact, given that there are over 2000 cases filed each year, the odds on ever facing a public hearing are next to nothing.
  • If you are an employer that does face a public hearing, there is certainly the capacity at the CHRO to get the matter to a public hearing.   But several employers are using motions to dismiss to try to get the case dismissed even before a public hearing — with mixed success.
  • The trend to settlement or dismissals of more cases is increasing not decreasing.  Whether it’s the cost of litigation, or simply the certainty of a number, settlements remain the primary way cases are being resolved.  
  • An interesting sidenote to this is because the standing expectation is now that the case will settle, an employer who can take a matter to a public hearing may put greater pressure on the CHRO and the employee to settle the matter.  The employer who takes a case to public hearing is the exception, not the rule, anymore and there may be some leverage gained by being in this position (obviously, depending on the facts of the case.)