Labor Reilations and Employment Law: Developments in Connecticut in 1996

Publication year2021
Connecticut Bar Journal
Volume 71.





The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities continued to figure prominently in the labor and employment law landscape last year, as the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that compensatory damages and fees were unavailable to victims of employment discrimination and that the agency's statutory time lines were mandatory. The state legislature stepped in to permit the CHRO to retain jurisdiction over hundreds of cases that would otherwise have been dismissed for untimeliness.

Workers' compensation issues likewise continued to occupy both the courts and the legislature. The courts determined that union meetings do not automatically provide a "mutual benefit" to employer and employee, and also defined "disability" for purposes of liability transfer to the Second Injury Fund. The legislature created civil actions for employees of underinsured employers. Developments involving the public sector were particularly prevalent in 1996, as the courts examined numerous matters involving labor arbitration and the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. This article will review these and other important decisions from the Connecticut Supreme and Appellate Courts, the state superior courts, and the State Board of labor Relations, as well as highlights of the 1996 legislative session.


The state's highest court was busy last year addressing numerous issues of first impression in the labor and employment field. Particularly newsworthy was the Court's landmark decision in Angelsea Productions, Inc. v. Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.(fn1) Specifically, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO or the Commission) must abide by its mandatory time lines, including the nine-month time fine for investigating complaints and ninety-


day deadline for scheduling a hearing after a finding of reasonable cause. According to the Court, the Commission's failure to abide by these statutory time lines deprives the Commission of jurisdiction over such complaints.

For budgetary and other reasons, lack of compliance with CHRO timetables has long been a problem, and the facts of the case did not surprise any practitioner. The employee in Angelsea filed a complaint with the CHRO in April 1991. By March of 1993, the CHRO had yet to complete its investigation within the nine months prescribed by statute.(fn2) The employer moved to dismiss the CHRO case on the grounds that the Commission had not conducted a timely investigation. Shortly thereafter, the Commission issued a reasonable cause finding and denied the employer's motion to dismiss. Although the Commission was obligated to schedule a hearing within ninety days of the reasonable cause determination pursuant to Section 46a-64, no such hearing was held. Consequently, the employer again moved to dismiss the case, and also petitioned the Commission for a declaratory ruling that its statutory time limitations were mandatory, not directory. The presiding hearing officer denied the motion to dismiss. Thereafter, CHRO's commissioners upheld the ruling and issued a declaratory ruling, concluding that the statutory time lines were directory. The plaintiffs appeal from the declaratory ruling ultimately ended up before Connecticut's Supreme Court. The Supreme Court addressed the following four questions:

1. Is the nine-month time limit for investigating a complaint mandatory?

2. If the Commission fails to make a reasonable cause determination within nine months from the date of filing a complaint, must the Commission dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction?

3. Is the time limit for holding a public hearing mandatory?

4. If the Commission fails to hold a public hearing within ninety days after a finding of reasonable cause, must the Commission dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction?


The Court answered each question in the affirmative. Noting that words such as "shall" or "must" typically denote nondiscretionary requirements, the Court then analyzed whether compliance with the CHRO time limits was critical to upholding the legislative intent of the enactment. In this regard, the Court concluded that while there was no doubt that the procedural vehicles of investigation, hearing, and relief were. essential components, "the speed with which these matters are carried out is necessarily a part of the essence of the statutory scheme.(fn3) This conclusion was buttressed by relevant legislative history, indicating the intent of the legislature to obtain resolutions of discrimination complaints as expeditiously as possible

The Supreme Court rejected the Commission's position that dismissal of such cases would deny a complainant due process because of the availability of other, possibly superior, remedies through the courts. likewise, the Court quickly disposed of the defendant's argument that it retained jurisdiction of untimely processed complaints, finding that the argument presumed directory time limitations.

Faced with the potential dismissal of hundreds of backlogged cases, the state legislature was swift to respond. The legislature passed Public Act 96-241 and effectively granted a "reprieve" of some seven months to numerous cases that would otherwise have been dismissed. The Public Act is explored in detail in Section VI.

The CHRO suffered another blow at the hands of the Connecticut Supreme Court a few months after Angelsea. In Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities v. Truelove and Maclean, Inc., (fn4) the Court ruled that employment discrimination claims brought pursuant to Section 46a-60 did not also establish a violation of Section 46a-58, the civil rights deprivation provision. As a result, compensatory damages and attorney's fees available to victims of discrimination under Section 46a-58 are not available to victims of employment discrimination.


In 1995, the Connecticut Supreme Court addressed for the first time whether compensatory damages and attorney's fees were available in employment discrimination cases filed with the CHRO. In two companion cases, (fn5) the Court held that the remedy provisions of Section 46a-86 did not authorize the CHRO to award emotional distress damages or attorney's fees for violations of the state law prohibiting employment discrimination, Connecticut General Statutes § 46a-60

However, it remained an open question after Bridgeport Hospital and Fenn Manufacturing whether employment discrimination claims could also constitute a violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 46a-58(a), which states "it shall be a discriminatory practice in violation of this section for any person to subject, or cause to be subjected, any other person to the deprivation of any rights, privileges or amenities, secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of this State or of the United States, on account of religion, national origin, alienage, color, race, sex, blindness or physical disability. Victims of discrimination under Section 46a-58 are expressly entitled to compensatory damages and attorney's fees pursuant to the remedy provision of Section 46a-86(c). In fact, following the Court's decisions in Bridgeport Hospital and Fenn Manufacturing, the CHRO's hearing officers capitalized on that loophole, awarding attorney's fees and emotional distress damages under Section 46a-58 to victims of employment discrimination.(fn6)

In Truelove, the Connecticut Supreme Court resolved this uncertainty by concluding that claims of discriminatory employment practices within the scope of Section 46a-60 do not provide a basis for violations of Section 464-58(a). Accordingly, the remedies available for Section 46a-58(a) violations' including emotional distress damages and attorney's fees, are not available to victims of Section 46a-60 discrimination.

In reaching its conclusion, the Court first relied upon the principle that specific statutory language prevails over general language concerning the same subject matter. Section


46a-60 specifically prohibits discriminatory employment practices. In contrast, Section 46a-58(a) generally forbids the deprivation of individual rights protected by law or constitution because of the individual's protected class status. As a result, the Court determined that "the specific, narrowly tailored cause of action embodied in § 46a-60 supersedes the general cause of action embodied in § 46a-58(a).(fn7)

Further supporting its conclusion, the Court noted that the remedy provisions contained in Section 46a-86 provided separate relief for discriminatory employment practices under Section 46a-60 and for discriminatory practices under Section 46a-58. The Court construed this as strong evidence of the legislature's intent that Section 46a-58 was not intended to govern employment claims already encompassed by Section 46a-60. As a result, there is now little doubt that the CHRO's authority to provide substantial monetary compensation to victims of employment discrimination has been severely restricted by the Court.

In addition to Truelove and Angelsea, the Court addressed two other cases of interest involving the CHRO. In Dufraine v. CHRO,(fn8) the plaintiff appealed an investigator's finding of no reasonable cause on her gender discrimination and retaliation complaint. The trial court determined not only that the investigation of the plaintiffs complaint had not been thorough or complete, as required, but also that there was insufficient evidence on the record to support a finding of no reasonable cause. The court remanded the...

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