What kinds of discrimination are against state law in Connecticut?
The Connecticut Human Rights and Opportunities Act makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religious creed, sex, national origin, age, ancestry, marital status, disability (learning, mental, intellectual, physical), sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, genetic information, and criminal record (in state employment & licensing only).
Connecticut law differs from the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Connecticut state law protects workers under 40, whereas the ADEA only covers workers over 40. Connecticut law also provides broader protection for disabled employees than the similar federal statute, the Americans with Disabilities Act, because it does not require that the employee have a substantial limitation of a major life activity. Instead, it defines a disability as a chronic impairment.
How do I file a discrimination claim in Connecticut?
In Connecticut, you must file a discrimination claim with the state administrative agency, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO). The state agency has what is called a “work-sharing agreement” with the federal administrative agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which means that the agencies cooperate with each other to process claims. Filing a claim with both agencies is unnecessary, as long as you indicate to CHRO that you want it to “cross-file” the claim with the EEOC.
The Connecticut anti-discrimination statute covers some smaller employers not covered by federal law. Therefore, if your workplace has between 3 and 14 employees, you will be covered only under state law and should file with the CHRO. If your workplace has 15 or more employees, you will be able to initiate a claim under both federal and state law by filing with the CHRO.
To file a claim with the CHRO, contact the office below serving the area where the discrimination took place. More information about filing a claim with the CHRO can be found at the CHRO website.
What happens after I file a charge with the EEOC?
When your charge is filed, the EEOC will give you a copy of your charge with your charge number. Within 10 days, the EEOC will also send a notice and a copy of the charge to the employer. At that point, the EEOC may decide to do one of the following:
- Ask both you and the employer to take part in a mediation program
- Ask the employer to provide a written answer to your charge and answer questions related to your claim, then your charge will be given to an investigator
- Dismiss the claim if your charge was not filed in time or if the EEOC does not have jurisdiction
If the EEOC decides to investigate your charge, they may interview witnesses and gather documents. Once the investigation is complete, they will let you and the employer know the result. If the EEOC decides that discrimination did not occur then they will send you a “Notice of Right to Sue.” This notice gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law. If the EEOC determines that discrimination occurred then they will try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer. If a settlement cannot be reached, your case will be referred to the EEOC’s legal staff (or the Department of Justice in certain cases), who will decide whether or not the agency should file a lawsuit. If the EEOC decides not to file a lawsuit then they will give you a “Notice of Right to Sue.”
How long the investigation takes depends on a lot of different things, including the amount of information that needs to be gathered and analyzed. On average, it takes the EEOC nearly 6 months to investigate a charge. A charge is often able to settle faster through mediation (usually in less than 3 months).
How can I or my attorney pursue a discrimination claim in court in Connecticut?
If your case is successfully resolved by an administrative agency, it may not be necessary to hire an attorney or file a lawsuit. You probably will be required as to sign a release of your legal claims to resolve your case. If your case is not resolved by the CHRO or EEOC and you want to continue to pursue the matter, you will need to pursue your claim in court.
A federal employment discrimination case cannot be filed in court without first going to CHRO, having CHRO refer your claim to the EEOC, as discussed above, and having the EEOC dismiss your claim. This process is called “exhaustion” of your administrative remedy. Similarly, before you can proceed with a lawsuit based on your state discrimination claim, you must file with CHRO.
Many Connecticut attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in federal court. However, most cases may be brought in either state or federal court. State law does not limit or cap the compensatory (emotional pain and suffering) damages recoverable for a discrimination claim, which are capped under federal law. A case filed in state court using federal law may be “removed” to federal court by the employer because it involves a federal statute, such as Title VII or the ADEA.
The EEOC must first issue the document known as “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” or “Notice of Right to Sue” before you can file a case based upon your federal claim. A lawsuit based on your federal discrimination claim must be filed in federal or state court within 90 days of the date you receive the notice. Be sure to mark down that date when you receive it.
A lawsuit based upon your state discrimination claim can be brought only after you get the CHRO’s release or it dismisses your case. You must file a lawsuit within 90 days of either of these events.
These deadlines are called the “statute of limitations”. If you have received one of these agency letters, do not delay consulting with an employment attorney at Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, P.C. If your lawsuit is not filed by the deadline, then you may lose your ability to pursue a discrimination case.