Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Connecticut Employers May be Liable if They Fail to Prevent Anti-Homosexual Workplace Harassment

Under Connecticut law governing employment discrimination, an employer may be liable to an individual or employee if it "refuse[s] to hire or employ or to bar or to discharge from employment any individual or to discriminate against him in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of the individual’s sexual orientation or civil union status." C.G.S. § 46a-81c (1).  The question recently posed to the Connecticut Supreme Court in Patino v. Birken Manufacturing Co., was whether the mandate that an employer must not discriminate regarding “terms [or] conditions” of employment made an employer liable if it failed to take reasonable steps to protect an employee from workplace harassment/a hostile work environment due to the employee’s sexual orientation.
In reaching its decision, reportedly one of the first state supreme court decisions tackling this issue, the Connecticut Supreme Court concluded it did not matter that the law does not expressly make an employer liable for failing to prevent workplace harassment or remedy hostile work environments targeting an individual because of their sexual orientation.  Rather, the Connecticut Supreme Court, after examining the statute, related state and federal laws and case law, concluded that the phrase “terms, conditions or privileges of employment,” which already is used in many laws to employees from discrimination due to race or gender, has become a special phrase that covers employees facing workplace harassment or a hostile work environment due to protected qualities, such as race or gender. Therefore, because the state legislature used this phrase in the statute making an employer liable for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the legislature meant to protect employees from – and make an employer liable for – unremedied workplace harassment or hostile work environments.
Questions or Comments? Contact Jared Cantor.