Today I want to talk about a housing discrimination claim.  But wait! It has significant relevance to employment discrimination claims so bear with me for a second.

As an additional incentive, if you’ve been following the Marvel movies, this case will ALSO have elements of a multi-verse with multiple versions of the CHRO in play, so consider this case to be “Loki” for legal geeks. (If you don’t understand, your kids will.)

Ok, back to the law.

The story first starts in 2012 when the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld an award of $95,000 in noneconomic damages to an employee in an harassment claim, even though the employee did not offer any expert or medical testimony on the subject and provided very little to no evidence on it, according to the court’s opinion.

The case, Patino v. Birken Mfg, has often been cited for the proposition that noneconomic damages will not be overturned unless they are excessive or shocking.  The Court’s decision cited several other cases to compare the verdicts in those cases with that one.  These types of cases are also what is known as “garden variety” emotional distress damages.

Flash forward to 2015 and a case of housing discrimination filed at the CHRO.  The condominium never appeared in the case to defend itself, which resulted in a default judgment.  A hearing in damages was then held. At the hearing, the CHRO requested $75,000 in noneconomic damages on behalf of the individual. However, the referee awarded $15,000 in compensatory damages for emotional distress. Victory and case closed, right?

Nope. Then things get interesting. The CHRO appealed the decision of its own referee, contending the damages were insufficient.  The Superior Court remanded the case for further decision and on remand, the referee did not change the damages award.  The CHRO then appealed again to the Superior Court which affirmed the decision.

Which led to an appeal to the Connecticut Appellate with the CHRO representing the CHRO (Plaintiff) and the CHRO representing the CHRO (Defendant).

(Don’t try to think too much about it; your head will spin but you can read footnote 1 for an explanation where the court notes “The present case thus presents us with the unusual situation of both parties on appeal advocating for the same
interests; specifically, asking this court to reverse the decision of the Superior Court, vacate the referee’s award of damages and remand the case for a new calculation of damages.”)

For good measure, the State of Connecticut filed a brief as amicus curiae.   (That’s a lot of tax dollars hard at work, as they say.)

On appeal in CHRO v. Cantillon, both versions of the CHRO asked the court to reverse, claiming a misapplication of prior case law.  Both argued that Patino stands for the proposition that in “garden variety” emotional distress claims, “there is a presumptive monetary range of damages between $30,000 and $125,000.”


Continue Reading CHRO vs. CHRO: How Much is “Garden Variety” Emotional Distress Really Worth

The short session of the Connecticut General Assembly is set to begin on February 5, 2014.

But the jockeying for items to get on the agenda is well under way. The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities is circulating a proposed bill that would followup on a failed bill from last year’s term.

I previously discussed this proposal in a post last May.

At the time, the proposed bill was thought to be close to passage, but time ran out in the session before it could be picked up.  Earlier versions the bill proved quite troublesome; this latest version still has issues that haven’t been addressed and it’s important for employers to speak up now before the changes are put into place.

So what are some of the changes this bill would bring?

Changes to “Mental Disability”

The bill expands the definition of a “mental disability” to not only “mental disorders, as defined in the most recent edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’”, but also to including having “a record of or regarding a person as having one or more such disorders”.

Put aside, for the moment whether including everything in the new DSM5 is worthwhile. The more troubling issue is that the proposed law would continue to cover “regarded as” claims for mental disabilities. The references to a “past history” of mental disability in existing law being removed by this bill are less significant because a “record” of disability would now be covered.

Why is that problematic? Becaues that the definition is inconsistent with how a “physical” disability is treated; where is the reference to being “regarded” as having a physical disability?

Rather than continue to treat mental and physical disabilities as distinct from each other, the legislature should take its cues from the ADA and match its definitions accordingly.  Otherwise, we’ll continue to have three different standards to analyze disability claims — one for ADA claims, and two for state disability-related claims.


Continue Reading Legislative Preview: Will the CHRO Bill Get Passed This Year?

The Connecticut Supreme Court, in a decision that will be officially released on May 15, 2012, today ruled unanimously that Connecticut’s anti-discrimination laws implicitly create a claim for hostile work environment based on an employee’s sexual orientation.  The state’s anti-discrimination laws have long been interpreted to bar a hostile work environment based on gender,

It’s not very often that the Connecticut Supreme Court considers employment law issues.

But today, two notable cases are being argued in front of the court. Both could have an impact on employers in the state.

Court Considers Employment Law Cases

In Patino v. Birken Manufacturing, the court is being