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Last week, Law360 quoted me in an article on marital status discrimination. (They timed it for Valentine’s Day; make of that what you will.)

The gist of the article is that marital status discrimination is something for employers to be mindful of.

And for that premise, I’m in agreement. Several states, including Connecticut, explicitly prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of marital status.

In fact, it’s right there in Conn. Gen. Stat. 46a-60(b)(1):

It shall be a discriminatory practice in violation of this section. for an employer… to refuse to hire or employ or to bar or to discharge from employment any individual or to discriminate against any individual in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of the individual’s race, color, religious creed, age, sex, gender identity or expression, marital status, national origin, ancestry, present or past history of mental disability, intellectual disability, learning disability, physical disability, including, but not limited to, blindness, status as a veteran or status as a victim of domestic violence.

But what does that mean in practice?

A look to the definitions section has explanations for other protected categories, such as physical disability, but no such luck for marital status.

And it’s not as though there are lots of cases to draw guidance from. Last year, there were only 12 employment discrimination claims based on marital status filed at the CHRO. (That’s down from 31 claims just five years ago.)

There aren’t a lot of cases on the statute either but there is a Superior Court case from 1996 (Blackwell v. Danbury Hospital) that does try to tackle the issue and tries to figure out exactly what is covered. It was asked to address whether an anti-nepotism policy constitutes “marital status” discrimination.

In looking at the legislative history, the court found that it’s only the individual status as single, married, separated, divorced, widowed that is in play with the statute and that the identify of the person’s spouse does not affect that status.

The court concluded that because, “the parties in the present action agree that the plaintiff was refused employment because of the identity of her spouse” and “the identity of her spouse is not a component of ‘marital status,'” the employer did not discriminate against the employee with its application of a anti-nepotism policy.

But in other jurisdictions outside of Connecticut, this analysis may be different; it was only by looking at the legislative history did the court reach its conclusion. Other courts have followed this analysis.

In any event, employers should be mindful of this oft-overlooked protected characteristic when making its employment decisions and be careful not to base its actions based on such status.