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Connecticut Court: No Associational Workplace Discrimination Claims Under State Law

In Connecticut, workers have broad protections against discrimination under state and federal law. Connecticut law—most notably, the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (CFEPA)—provides even more comprehensive protection to workers than its federal counterpart. With that being said, a court recently found CFEPA does not protect workers against associational discrimination. 

On June 18, 2024, the Connecticut Appellate Court upheld the ruling of a lower court that found that associational discrimination is not covered by the  “clear and unambiguous” language of the CFEPA (Demarco v. Charter Oak Temple Restoration Association, Inc.) Here, our Connecticut workplace discrimination attorney highlights the key points workers should know about the court’s decision. 

Case Review: Demarco v. Charter Oak Temple Restoration Association, Inc

The Background and Facts

James Demarco was an employee for Charter Oak Temple Restoration Association, Inc. It is a non-profit organization that is based in Hartford, Connecticut. Unfortunately, Mr. Demarco’s newborn son was diagnosed with a serious medical condition. He took a leave of absence from his employer in order to help provide additional care for his vulnerable infant son. 

Mr. Demarco was subsequently terminated from his position on the grounds that the leave of absence was not approved. Mr. Demarco filed a wrongful termination claim on the grounds of associational discrimination. He argued that his association with a disabled person—his young son—was the motivating factor in his dismissal. 

For its part, the employer (Charter Oak Temple Restoration Association, Inc.) moved to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that associational discrimination is not a valid cause of action under the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (CFEPA).

The Legal Issues

The primary legal issue revolved around whether CFEPA protects against associational discrimination — that is, discrimination based on an employee’s association with a disabled person. The plaintiff in this case, Mr. Demarco, argued that such discrimination is implicitly prohibited by Connecticut state law. In contrast, the employer countered that the CFEPA does not cover associational discrimination. Notably, there is no question that the CFEPA strictly bars disability discrimination on the basis of an employee’s own existing physical impairment. However, the statute does not have explicit language in regards to associational discrimination.  

The Act explicitly prohibits employment discrimination based on an individual’s own physical disability but does not specify protection for associational ties.

The Decision of the Court

The Connecticut Appellate Court ruled in favor of the employer, Charter Oak Temple Restoration Association, Inc. The court held that the CFEPA does not extend its protection to cases of associational discrimination. The decision to strike Demarco’s revised complaint was based on the interpretation that the statutory language of CFEPA does not cover associational discrimination. The court concluded that any such protections would need to be put into place through a legislative act by lawmakers in Connecticut, not by judicial means. 

Note: Federal law does recognize associational discrimination. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits associational disability discrimination. In other words, it is unlawful under the ADA for an employer to adversely treat a job applicant or employee simply because he or she has an association—spouse, parent, etc—with a disabled person. However, the ADA only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. The employer in this specific case was not covered by the ADA. The court emphasized that the plain meaning of the CFEPA must be followed, even if the federal ADA does recognize associational disability discrimination. 

The Implications for Employees in Connecticut

This decision underscores a significant limitation within the CFEPA, specifically its non-coverage of associational discrimination. Employees in Connecticut may thus find themselves unprotected under state law if they face discrimination based on their relationships with disabled individuals. While the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) might provide some recourse at the national level, the state-specific protections under CFEPA do not currently address this type of discrimination. This case highlights a potential area for legislative review and amendment to provide broader protections for employees within the state. 

Understanding Associational Disability Discrimination Under the ADA

While you cannot bring an associational disability discrimination claim against an employer under Connecticut state law, a job applicant or worker in Connecticut may have a claim through the ADA. Here is an overview of key points to know about federal associational disability claims: 

  • The Definition and Scope: Associational disability discrimination occurs when an employee or job applicant is treated unfavorably because of their relationship with a person with a disability. The relationship can be with a spouse, child, or any other significant person. The ADA does not require the disabled person to be a family member. 
  • Coverage: The ADA only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. A smaller employer—such a business or organization with 6 employees—is only subject to Connecticut law. As noted, our state does not recognize associational discrimination. 
  • Types of Discrimination: Employers are prohibited from making decisions based on assumptions about a wide range of associational issues, including: 1) The employee’s need to care for a person with a disability, 2) The possible increased healthcare costs due to their association, and 3) Any potential absenteeism related to caregiving responsibilities.

How Hayber, McKenna & Dinsmore Can Help With an Employment Discrimination Case

Employment discrimination cases are notoriously complex. At Hayber, McKenna & Dinsmore, LLC, we believe that all employees deserve personalized, detail-focused legal guidance and support from their attorney. Our client testimonials and history of representative case results tell the story. If you are dealing with the fall out of any type of job-related discrimination, our Connecticut employee rights advocates are standing by, ready to help you determine the best course of action. 

Contact Our Connecticut Workplace Discrimination Lawyers Today

At Hayber, McKenna & Dinsmore, LLC, our Connecticut employment attorneys have extensive experience handling workplace discrimination cases. If you or your loved one was discriminated against in violation of the law, we can help. Call us now at (860) 522-8888 or contact us online for a confidential, no commitment initial case review. With offices located in Hartford and Milford, we fight for the rights and interests of workplace discrimination victims throughout Connecticut.