As I’ve talked about before, an employee who claims various types of employment discrimination must typically file his/her complaint first with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. Many times, the employee will then ask the CHRO for a "release of jurisdiction" allowing that person to pursue a claim in state court.
A group of other employees allow the cases to continue at the CHRO for investigation. In those circumstances, the CHRO may make a finding of "no reasonable cause" which, in essence, closes the matter out. The employee can still ask for a release of jurisdiction before the draft becomes final
However, there is another less well traveled option — appealing the "no reasonable cause" finding directly to Superior Court. (The employee can also ask for reconsideration of that request as well, but that’s beyond the scope of this particular post).
A case released by the Connecticut Appellate Court, Prioleau v. CHRO (officially released on September 1, 2009) (download available here) addresses that very circumstance. In doing so, the Appellate Court found that the CHRO followed the appropriate procedures in its investigation and that the CHRO’s conclusions should be upheld. A court’s review in that case is not whether the employee should "win" their discrimination case but rather was the process that the CHRO used fair. That is a much easier question for the court (and much harder one for the employee to prevail on).
The Appellate Court emphasized the notion that the CHRO need not use the strict analytical framework that courts use in determining discrimination cases. Rather, the CHRO can use all reliable probative evidence, including evidence unfavorable to an employee’s claim, to make its decision.
In addition, the Court easily disposed of the remaining arguments, finding that the investigation was indeed proper and that the investigator was entitled to draw conclusions from that investigation.
The employee here had an uphill battle in its appeal. Courts will be deferential to a CHRO’s decisions, as it must under its jurisprudence. For employers faced with these types of appeals, this case will serve as a helpful reminder about the appropriate standards that a court will use in reviewing the claim.
Nevertheless, its still another stark reminder that these cases can take a good deal of time and money to defend. Being pragmatic in the business decisions you make will help ensure that if you do have to defend yourself, it will be money well spent.