It’s so rare nowadays that the Connecticut Supreme Court rules on discrimination cases that, when I first took a look at its new decision in Duart v. Department of Corrections (download here) — officially released next week — I got excited. After all, the case is based on a claims of gender, race and sexual orientation discrimination. Even the CHRO submitted an amicus brief in support of the decision.
But upon further review, it’s a decision only the lawyers will love; for employers, the case lacks the oomph to make it significant.
At issue is whether a party seeking a new trial on the basis of alleged knowing and deliberate discovery misconduct must show that the result at a new trial would likely be different. The court concludes yes; the party must show that a “different result” would have occurred — a high standard indeed to meet.
In reaching that conclusion, the court basically notes that discovery has become so difficult that the other party can often find something to complain about. That would lead to chaos, according to the court.
Given the breadth of discovery in modern trial practice, it is inevitable that the movant could find some fault with the other party’s compliance with broadly phrased discovery requests. If we obliged the nondisclosing party to prove harmlessness every time the moving party claimed that the nondisclosure constituted misconduct, we would impose an insupportable burden on the nonmoving party to disprove amorphous assertions, as in the pre- sent case, that the ‘‘entire case would have gone differently . . . .’’ Requiring a showing of a different result serves as a means of differentiating those cases in which the nonmoving party’s alleged misconduct materially affected the resolution of the underlying case—and in which, accordingly, the increased burden and expense is thereby warranted—from those cases in which relitigation would be a pointless exercise.
For employers, it’s hard to take away much from this decision. It’s a procedural decision that may impact discovery and trials. But for human resources professionals, it’s not going to have much, if any impact.