Under Connecticut law, employees are entitled to be free from discriminatory treatment in their employment. Such forbidden discrimination can include, but is not limited to treatment on the basis of age, race, ethnicity, disability and sex (including sexual harassment). If an employee believes that they have experienced discriminatory treatment by an employer or coworker, the employee may be surprised to find out that they cannot simply bring an action in court. Connecticut provides that most discriminatory claims in employment or public housing must be brought before the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO), the administrative agency tasked with handling these discrimination claims.
When an employee or public housing recipient has a complaint regarding discriminatory treatment, they may seek counsel from an Intake Officer at any CHRO facility. In many employment discrimination claims, complaints must be made within 300 days from the date of the alleged act of discrimination. An important factor in an employee making a complaint is that the CHRO and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (the federal agency which has jurisdiction over federal discrimination complaints) work together so that the CHRO has jurisdiction over federal claims and the filing of a complaint in the CHRO is also considered a filing with the EEOC.
Once a complaint is filed, the CHRO will send a copy to the employer (also known as the Respondent). The Respondent is then under the obligation to respond to the allegations within thirty (30) days (or within ten days for a housing claim). If the Respondent fails to appear and file an Answer, the CHRO may default them and in the event of a default, the CHRO will forward the complaint to a hearing to determine appropriate remedies available to the employee/complainant.
If the respondent files an appropriate response, the in employment discrimination cases the Commission is statutorily obligated to perform a “Merit Assessment Review” of the Complaint in which the CHRO must make a determination as to whether the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; is frivolous on its face; names a respondent which is exempt from their jurisdiction; or that the complaint fails to show that there is any “reasonable possibility that further investigation will result in a finding of reasonable cause.” If the CHRO makes one of these determinations, the case will be dismissed. However, if none of these determinations can be made, the complaint must continue forward. If a complaint is not dismissed at the Merit Assessment Review, the claims will be scheduled for mandatory mediation by the CHRO.
If no agreement can be reached during mediation, the CHRO will move forward with an investigation of the allegations contained in the Complaint. An investigator will be assigned whose job it is to act as a neutral person who will gather information regarding the allegations contained within the Complaint and any documentation provided. The Investigator may also bring the parties in for a “fact-finding hearing” in which the parties are placed under oath and asked questions by the Investigator.
The Investigator will review the facts uncovered by the investigation to make a determination as to whether there is “reasonable cause” to believe that a discriminatory act has been or is being committed. A determination of “reasonable cause” means “a bona fide belief that the material issues of fact are such that a person of ordinary caution, prudence and judgment could believe the facts alleged in the complaint.” If there is no reasonable cause found, the case will most likely be dismissed by the CHRO.
Once a determination of “reasonable cause” has been made, the case will move towards a public hearing which is similar to a court case. Prior to the public hearing, a settlement conference will be held which will be conducted by a referee assigned by the CHRO only for the purpose of settlement. If settlement negotiations fail, the public hearing will be conducted as scheduled by another referee.
At this public hearing, the CHRO will have an attorney which will present evidence of the discrimination that the CHRO has found through its investigation. The Complainant and the Respondent may also have the opportunity to present evidence and witnesses. Within ninety (90) days of the end of the hearing, the referee will issue a decision in writing about the case. If the referee rules that discrimination occurred, she or he will order the discrimination stopped as well as order other available remedies.
At certain points during the investigation, the parties may feel that they no longer wish to have the case heard by the CHRO or participate in the CHRO process. The parties may jointly request a release of jurisdiction at any time after the Complaint has been filed with the CHRO. After certain other benchmarks, the Complainant may request a release on their own seeking to remove the case from the CHRO and allow them to file in Court.
If you are an employee who has experienced discriminatory treatment in your employment or in public housing, or if you are an employer faced with such claims, please call the experienced employment counsel at Harlow, Adams & Friedman, P.C. today at 203-878-0661 for a free consultation.Contact Us For a Free Consultation