In yesterday’s post, I talked about the case of Tomick v. UPS in looking at the prima facie case for disability discrimination.
But the new Appellate Court case may be even more significant for its discussion of punitive damages. In doing so, the Appellate Court attempts to resolve a split that had developed at the Superior Court level on whether Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 46a-104 authorizes an award of punitive damages in state law employment discrimination cases.
First, the statute. It states that a court “may grant a complainant… such legal and equitable relief which it deems appropriate including, but not limited to, temporary or permanent injunctive relief, attorney’s fees and court costs….”
The Appellate Court held that the statute does not authorize an award of punitive damages. If upheld by the Connecticut Supreme Court, it could significantly impact whether employees decide to file discrimination claims in state court versus federal court.
The court noted that the language “does not expressly provide for punitive damages”, only for an award of attorney’s fees and court costs. And the court noted that the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled ten years ago that where a statute does not expressly provide for punitive damages, courts should not interpret the statute to include such relief.
Even if the language of the statute were “sufficiently broad” to provide for punitive damages, the court concluded that such a reading would be “contrary to our established law.” It noted that in Connecticut, punitive damages are typically “restricted to cost of litigation less taxable costs of the action being tried”. Thus, if the employee were to prevail on his argument here, he would effectively be allowed to double his recovery of litigation costs because the statute already authorizes an award of attorney’s fees and costs.
While the decision isn’t THAT much of a surprise, I would be surprised if this were the end of the issue. Given the procedural history of this case, I would think it’s quite possible we’ll see this case go up to the Connecticut Supreme Court on appeal now. So, before thinking that the issue of punitive damages in employment discrimination cases is resolved, stay tuned.