Shelton Challenges CHRO’s Award of Emotional Distress Damages and Attorneys Fees

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Over the years, I’ve openly questioned whether the CHRO has been improperly awarding emotional distress damages and attorneys fees in employment discrimination claims.  

Indeed, back in February 2009, I noted “Nearly 15 years ago, the Connecticut Supreme Court came out with a pair of decisions that seemed to put to rest the question of whether the CHRO was authorized to award emotional distress damages to employees who filed suit and prevailed in state law employment discrimination cases.”

And one of my law partners followed that up in October 2010, also discussing the disconnect between what the courts have said, and what the CHRO has been doing. 

Then in June 2011, the Connecticut Appellate Court dropped a footnote in a case that again called into question the CHRO’s practice.

Last week, the City of Shelton filed a federal lawsuit (download here) against the CHRO challenging that practice. 

The suit, which was first reported by the Connecticut Law Tribune this week (subscription needed), claims that the CHRO is improperly denying Shelton (and other defendants) their Due Process Rights because the case will also address federal damages too without a right to a jury trial. 

Interestingly, the case presents a bookend to a Second Circuit case from 2006 (Nestor v. Pratt & Whitney — of which I was involved with earlier in my career), which allowed a plaintiff to proceed in federal court on her Title VII claims after a CHRO public hearing because emotional distress damages and attorneys fees were not available at the CHRO.  

Indeed, in that case, the Second Circuit noted matter of factly that the “CCHRO was not authorized to award, including compensatory damages (presumably in addition to-and not duplicative of-the back pay already received), punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and prejudgment interest.”

The Shelton case is still very early in the process but if the case proceeds to a decision, it could help provide some more clarity to an area that has become quite unclear over the last 15 years.  Employers should certainly watch this case closely.

City of Shelton v. CHRO

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