I am an employer who has received a notice of complaint from the Connecticut Human Rights and Opportunities Commission, what does it mean and what do I do next?
The Connecticut Human Rights and Opportunities Commission (CHRO) has broad discretion under Connecticut law to investigate, hold hearings and issue orders where there may be discrimination in employment, violations of civil liberties and other related matters. (See Conn. Gen. Stat. §46a-56(a)).
Most of the complaints we see are filed by former employees against their former employer claiming they were harmed or prejudiced by a discriminatory employment practice. Discriminatory employment practices can encompass a variety of behaviors, including not-hiring or treating someone differently because of individual’s race, color, religious creed, age, sex, gender identity or expression, marital status, pregnancy, national origin, ancestry, present or past history of mental disability, intellectual disability, learning disability, physical disability, including, but not limited to, blindness or status as a veteran. (See Conn. Gen. Stat. §46a-60.) An employee or former employee may also file a complaint for not having been properly noticed of their rights to not be discriminated against, as required by Connecticut law. (See Conn. Gen. Stat. §46a-60(d).)
Sometimes employees bring complaints for legitimate concerns. Sometimes, they are brought out of revenge or to seek to gain an advantage over a former employer that may end up with the former employee getting paid. It is important that any employer facing a CHRO complaint have knowledgeable legal counsel who can advise them of their rights and guide them through the complicated process of a CHRO complaint and subsequent investigation.
Any person claiming to be aggrieved by an alleged discriminatory practice may file a complaint with the CHRO alleging the discriminatory practice and naming the violator. (See Conn. Gen. Stat. §46a-82.) Assuming the complaint is in compliance, the CHRO will then issue the complaint to the accused, known as the “respondent”. The respondent then has thirty days to answer the complaint, provide additional information the CHRO has requested and sign an affidavit attesting to as much. There is an exception to the thirty-day deadline, if either party requests a “pre-answer conciliation” conference, which will be an attempt to mediate this matter and not have it progress any further. If the pre-answer conciliation conference is unsuccessful, the respondent will be required to file an answer and the supporting documents.
The next step is for the CHRO, within sixty days of the filing of a respondent’s answer, to conduct a case assessment review to determine that that matter is not frivolous on its face and that it is possible an investigation might lead to a finding of reasonable cause. If the case passes review, the CHRO will notice the case for mandatory mediation, though the CHRO may waive as much if the parties already participated in conference before the respondent answered. (See Conn. Gen. Stat. §46a-83.)
If the mandatory mediation conference is unsuccessful, either party or the CHRO may request early legal intervention where commission legal counsel shall determine within ninety days whether the complaint should be (1) heard by the CHRO, (2) proceed to a fact finding hearing, or (3) released from the jurisdiction of the commission.