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Does the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (CFEPA) include claims of associational discrimination based on an employee’s association with a disabled individual?

That was the issue before the Connecticut Appellate Court in Demarco v. Charter Oak Temple Restoration Assn., Inc. decided yesterday.

The Court held that Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-60 (b) (1) of CFEPA, which prohibits employment discrimination based on physical disability, does not protect individuals associated with disabled persons.

James Demarco, the plaintiff, was employed by the Charter Oak Temple Restoration Association, Inc., and took a leave of absence to care for his newborn son, who had serious medical conditions. Upon returning, he was terminated, and the employer cited concerns about his son’s illness affecting Demarco’s job performance. Demarco claimed this termination was discriminatory under CFEPA due to his association with his disabled son.

The trial court struck Demarco’s revised complaint, ruling that CFEPA’s language does not support claims of associational discrimination. The appellate court, led by Chief Judge Bright and Judges Alvord and Palmer, affirmed this decision. The court emphasized that CFEPA’s text is clear in its protections for individuals with their own disabilities and does not extend to those associated with disabled individuals.

The court underscored that while CFEPA is remedial and aims to eliminate discrimination, its statutory language is unambiguous and does not cover associational discrimination. Therefore, any expansion of these protections would require legislative action, not judicial interpretation.

This decision answers a question that had been lingering under current Connecticut law, but that’s not the end of the story for employers because the EEOC has opined that the ADA encompasses such claims on a federal law.