Back in February 2009, I talked at length about whether compensatory damages (for things such as emotional distress) was properly awarded in employment discrimination claims that proceeded to a hearing at the CHRO. I went on to say back then that I believed the agency and the human rights referees at the agency had been overlooking key Supreme Court cases, including a case Bridgeport Hospital v. CHRO.
My law partner even wrote an article about it a year ago also suggesting the same thing.
Yesterday, the appellate court backed us up. At least in a footnote.
The case is Blinkoff v. CHRO (download here), and if you missed it, that would be understandable as it concerns mainly a housing-type complaint that has gone on for nearly 15 years. But the court, in a footnote, suggests that even if it found in the plaintiff’s favor, compensatory damages may not have been appropriate. At the very least, the court says that in the “nonemployment context”, it was an open question.
In doing so, it suggests that the opposite is true for employment cases. Indeed, it cites to Bridgeport Hospital v. CHRO for the proposition that referees are not empowered to award compensatory damages or attorney’s fees. Here’s the quote in context:
We note … it is an open question whether the referee would have been empowered under the statutory scheme to award monetary damages. Following a finding of discriminatory conduct, the human rights referee must fashion a remedy pursuant to General Statutes § 46a-86. Our Supreme Court, however, ruled in an employment discrimination case that § 46a-86 does not empower the referee to award compensatory damages or attorney’s fees to remedy a violation of § 46a-60, which was the sole statutory basis of the plaintiff’s claim in the case at hand. See Bridgeport Hospital v. Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities, 232 Conn. 91, 97, 653 A.2d 782 (1995). The question of whether Bridgeport Hospital controls in a nonemployment context such as in this case is left for another day.
Will the CHRO continue to pursue this path – and force employers into having to defend themselves against such possible damages? Time will tell, though, if the footnote is any indication, hopefully that path will end promptly.