The results are in: The General Assembly and the Governor’s office have been caught up in the Blue Wave in this state.  Instead of a split, the Democratic party will control a sizable majority in both houses and the Governor’s Office.

But with Governor-Elect Ned Lamont coming from a business-side perspective and touting the need to grow business in Connecticut, what are we likely to see in the next legislative session?

Already legislative leaders are talking about a push for a series of progressive-leaning bills that have been held up the last few years. The CT Mirror has this initial report:

A day after Connecticut experienced its own blue wave in the midterm elections, Senate and House Democratic leaders said addressing a minimum wage increase, tolls, and paid family medical leave will likely be among the top priorities the majority takes on in the upcoming legislative session.

Yes, two out of the three items cited are big employment law topics. Indeed, paid family leave has been talked about for several years.

Back in 2015, I noted what the contours of such a package might look like.  

Beyond minimum wage and paid family leave, what else should employers be on the watch for? A new bill on sexual harassment prevention training and perhaps even an expansion for claims of sexual harassment isn’t out of the question either.

The bill died on the floor earlier this year, but it’s hard not to think that with sexual harassment claims in the state on the rise, a bill on the topic isn’t far behind.

My early prediction? The 2019 legislative session is going to be a busy one.  Additional bills on strengthening unions may ultimately be on the table.

With a Blue Wave in the state, employers should be mindful that elections have consequences and those are going to be seen in 2019 at the General Assembly.

The Office of Legislative Research has released their "OLR Major Issues" document, which is designed the identify and provide brief descriptions of important issues that the Connecticut General Assembly is likely to address in the upcoming legislative session.

You can read the entire document here. 

In the Labor and Employment area, the areas that the report highlights should be of no surprise to readers of the blog. They are as follows:

  • Unemployment Compensation Fund Solvency
  • Paid Sick Leave
  • Alternatives to Existing Binding Arbitration Policy for Municipalities and School Districts
  • Changes to Prevailing Wage Laws and the Burdens They Place on Towns

Of course, this report doesn’t mean that OTHER issues won’t be brought up again, but as I said before, paid sick leave is very likely coming around again. With a Governor-Elect who supports the measure, it’s now not a question of "if", but "when".

With 2009 winding down, it seems like a good time to reflect on what transpired during the last legislative session and look forward to the 2010 short session of the Connecticut General Assembly.

Fortunately, the CHRO has prepared a detailed summary of the 2009 session, with recaps of particular measures that were passed (or defeated).  As I’ve noted before, there were a number of laws passed that relate to labor and employment law matters in Connecticut.

You can download the 24-page recap here.  The summary is particularly helpful because it is filled with links to the relevant documents.

As a fellow Connecticut blogger Ryan McKeen has said before, the Connecticut Judicial Branch Law Libraries’ Newslog, is one of those hidden-in-plain-sight web gems that ought to be discovered more often.  In a recent post, they referenced new reports from the Office of Legislative Research which provides answers to some questions that might otherwise go unanswered.

Among the reports recently released is a fascinating look at the Connecticut insurance labor data. The report was compiled in response to a request to determine how many jobs the insurance industry provides to Connecticut while also determining what jobs may have been (1) outsourced to offshore vendors and (2) given to workers here on a visa.

Notably, Connecticut’s place as the "insurance capital" of the world has eroded, as the employment numbers confirm:

It appears that the employment level peaked in 2002 at 67,828 positions and has eroded since then. Over the past year, from June 2008 to June 2009, the employment level has dropped from 66,100 to 64,200, a loss of 1,900 jobs, which represents 2.9% of the jobs. According to the Courant, the industry’s employment peaked in July 1990 at 83,300 and ended 1999 at 71,500. Thus, from July 1990 to June 2009, the Connecticut insurance industry’s employment level dropped from 83,300 to 64,200, a decrease of 19,100 jobs or about 23% of its workforce.

For employers that rely on the insurance industry for its livelihood, this drop represents a significant portion of business over the years.

There is a practical use to such numbers as well.  As companies defend themselves in discrimination claims arising from layoffs and reductions in force, numbers like this can provide a much needed context to the company’s business losses.  This may provide further support to a company’s legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for its decision.

Earlier this year, proponents of a bill to make transgender (or gender identity and expression) a protected category  failed in their efforts to get that category covered under the state’s anti-discrimination laws. 

A new United States District Court case this week may provide proponents with an example of a case that, in their view, may have come out differently if "transgender" was a protected category.  (For a glossary of such terms, check out this post.)

In Yvonne Morales f/k/a Javier Morales v. ATP Health & Beauty Care, Inc. Judge Thompson granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment this week.  In the case, because Title VII does not protect "transgender" employees, the employee claimed that she was harassed because of her gender.  According to the court, she used a rarely invoked theory that she was being discriminated against for failure to comply with socially accepted gender roles.

(Admittedly, there is some dispute over the proper pronoun to use; the court uses "she", while the employer uses "he" in its papers.) 

Morales made several allegations (caution to readers: these are only allegations not facts):  Morales claimed that a shift supervisor regularly screamed at her for “the smallest reasons” and made several inappropriate comments to her.

The Court goes on to summarize some of the other allegations:

Morales states that [the shift supervisor] (1) told her that she had “a big p***y” on a day when she wore tight jeans to work; (2) asked her which of the men with whom the supervisor was standing was most attractive to her; (3) asked her if her ovaries hurt as she was holding her stomach while walking to the restroom; (4) told Morales that “[his] d**is curved” and “if [he sticks] it up [Morales’ a**, [he] will take sh** out of it”; and (5) told Morales that she would not “fool around” with Morales as a female but probably would have done so when she was a boy.

While the court found that some of the above described acts could make Morales fit within the protected category, the court also found she did not produce sufficient evidence "as to whether the harassment she suffered solely on account of her failure to conform to gender stereotypes was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of her employment and create an abusive working environment."

The court’s 34-page decision is obviously more detailed than this and is worth a read for any employer dealing with these issues.  Notably, for instance, the court found that the employee had significant attendance issues which eventually warranted her termination. You can also view the employer’s motion for summary judgment papers here, and the brief filed in opposition here.

For employers, this case reminds us that well-documented termination decisions are more likely to be upheld by the court, even in the face of other allegations.  But the facts as alleged (and, if believed) portray a work environment that may not have been welcoming to all employees.  And so, while the employer has won the case and while the employer’s conduct may not be illegal, it has no doubt spent a significant amount on attorneys fees, time and effort. 

Having effective human resource personnel involved and useful supervisor training can help reduce the risk of such suits in the future.   And certainly having a better understanding of transgender issues — such as the program described in Nolo’s Employment Law Blog — will help reduce potential issues in the future as well.

Would the outcome in this case be different if gender identity were a protected category? Tough to say because the employer presented a strong case that the employee’s attendance issues were significant.  But if the legislature acts next year on such a bill, there will certainly be more cases like this to follow.