A few weeks ago, I highlighted a new Connecticut Supreme Court (Patino v. Birken Manufacturing) that applied “hostile work environment” claims typically found in sex harassment cases, to a sexual orientation claim. In doing so, the court made it clear that the door is wide open for claims of harassment based on other protected characteristics such as religion.
Now it’s time to look at the implications of the decision. The Connecticut Law Tribune took a good first crack at it stating:
If employers don’t take adequate steps to correct a hostile environment, they can be sued for significant money damages, whether it arises over sexual orientation, race, religion or any of a dozen other “protected classes.”
Note that the employer doesn’t have to create a Lake Wobegon environment “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” In other words, perfection is not required from the outset.
But once it learns of a claim, an employer must take prompt remedial action. And what the court emphasized is that these harassment allegations can be based not only on gender, but race, religion, disability and other protected characteristics.
If your anti-harassment policy in Connecticut is still limited to gender, the Court’s decision should give you a reason for taking another look at it. Making sure that your staff knows what they are to do when they hear of allegations of harassment of any type could be the difference in preventing the next law suit.