The Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (CFEPA) is the state’s primary employment discrimination statute. For some time now, employers have been unclear as to whether punitive damages could be awarded for claims made under the Act.
Both the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) and the Connecticut Employment Lawyers Association (a group that represents employees in disputes) believed the Act allowed for such awards.
The Connecticut Supreme Court recently took up the question in Tomick v. United Parcel Service, Inc., et al., issuing the opinion that the Act did not authorize punitive damage awards.
Tomick v. United Parcel Service, Inc., et al., involved a driver that according to UPS was released for violation of the company’s violence policy. The employee in question filed a suit claiming his discharge was tied to a disability and not related to a violation of company rules. The case went to trial, and the jury decided the case for Tomick. It also awarded him damages of $500,000 – an award the trial court set aside on the grounds that CFEPA does not allow for such awards.
The case was appealed, with the appellate court upholding the decision of the trial court. Tomick then appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court – resulting in this decision.
The Supreme Court based its decision on the language of CFEPA which states a court may award “relief which it deems appropriate including, but not limited to, temporary or permanent injunctive relief, attorney’s fees, and court costs.”
Given that CFEPA language does not explicitly provide for punitive damages as a form of relief, the Supreme Court held that such awards are an “extraordinary remedy” recoverable only where the legislature has expressly authorized such damages.
What can employers expect now?
Since all legal avenues in Connecticut have now been exhausted – it will be left to the legislature to decide whether it wants to add provisions for punitive damages for these cases going forward. It is unclear whether they have any appetite for that action.
If you’re an employer and facing a possible employment discrimination lawsuit, consider calling on the attorneys at Kainen, Escalera & McHale in Connecticut. We do one thing and one thing only – we are an employer defense law firm – in fact, we are one of the largest employer defense law firms in the region. What’s more, each of our attorneys have over 20 years of experience in employment law and labor law matters and can provide your business with comprehensive legal counsel ranging from assistance with necessary preventive measures to trial advocacy. Please contact us if we can help you.
The information provided above is made available by Kainen, Escalera & McHale, P.C. for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide specific legal advice to your individual circumstances or legal questions. You acknowledge that neither your reading of, nor posting on, this site establishes an attorney-client relationship between you and our law firm or any of the attorneys in our firm. This information should not be used as a substitute for seeking competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state nor is it provided.