Public Accomodations | Discrimination | Connecticut
What is a “place of public accommodation?”
A place of public accommodation is “any establishment which caters or offers its services or facilities or goods to the general public” (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-63(1)). This definition is intentionally broad and includes hotels, restaurants, rest areas, hospitals, and Connecticut public schools. The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) views public schools and public colleges as public accommodations.
Does Connecticut have an anti-discrimination law protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination in places of public accommodation?
Yes. Since 1991, Connecticut has prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in public and private employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-81c to 46a-81q). In July 2011, these laws were extended to protect transgender people when Governor Malloy signed Public Act 11-55, An Act Concerning Discrimination, into law. The act, which went into effect on October 1, 2011, added “gender identity or expression” to Connecticut’s list of protected classes. For more detailed information see GLAD’s and the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund’s (CWEALF) publication, Connecticut: Legal Protections for Transgender People, at: Connecticut: Legal Protections for Transgender People
Do the laws also protect people perceived to be LGBT in places of public accommodation?
Yes. Connecticut non-discrimination law defines “sexual orientation” as either “having a preference for heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality, having a history of such preference or being identified with such preference…” (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-81a (emphasis added)). This language includes discrimination based on perception. For example, if a person is fired because they are perceived to be gay, they may invoke the protection of the anti-discrimination law regardless of their actual orientation.
Similarly, the law defines “gender identity or expression” as:
[A] person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth… (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-51(21) (emphasis added)).
What does the law say about discrimination in places of public accommodation?
Such places may not deny full and equal accommodations or discriminate in any way because of a person’s sexual orientation (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-81d), gender identity, or gender expression (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-64(a) (1) & (2)).
A specific law also forbids discrimination at golf clubs on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, gender identity or expression, marital status or sexual orientation (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 52-571d (b) & (c)). If you are denied membership or access to a golf club on the basis of any of the above, you may file a complaint in Superior Court to restrain further violations and recover damages of at least $250, plus costs and attorney’s fees (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 52-571d (g)).
How do I file a complaint of discrimination?
If you wish to file a complaint, you should contact an intake officer at one of the regional offices of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO). The intake officer will discuss your concerns, explain the complaint process, and advise you about what help CHRO may be able to provide to you. If CHRO has jurisdiction, you will be given an appointment to come to a regional office to file a complaint. The contact information for CHRO’s administrative headquarters and four regional offices is below:
- ADMINISTRATIVE HEADQUARTERS 25 Sigourney Street Hartford, CT 06106 PHONE: (860) 541-3400 OR (800) 477-5737 FAX: (860) 246-5068
• CAPITOL REGION OFFICE 450 Columbus Boulevard Hartford, CT 06103-1835 PHONE: (860) 566-7710 FAX: (860) 566-1997
• EASTERN REGION OFFICE 100 Broadway Norwich, CT 06360 PHONE: (860) 886-5703 FAX: (860) 886-2550
• WEST CENTRAL REGION OFFICE Rowland State Government Center 55 West Main Street, Suite 210 Waterbury, CT 06702-2004 PHONE: (203) 805-6530 FAX: (203) 805-6559
• SOUTHWEST REGION OFFICE 350 Fairfield Avenue, 6th Floor Bridgeport, CT 06604 PHONE: (203) 579-6246 FAX: (203) 579-6950
The complaint must be in writing and under oath, and it must state the name and address of the individual making the complaint (“the complainant”) as well as the entity he or she is complaining against (“the respondent”). The complaint must set out the particulars of the alleged unlawful acts and (preferably) the times they occurred (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-82). There is no charge to file a complaint.
If you are a state employee, you may file your case directly in court. State employees can skip over the CHRO process entirely.
Do I need a lawyer?
No. The process is designed to allow people to represent themselves. However, GLAD strongly encourages people to find lawyers to represent them throughout the process. Not only are there many legal rules governing the CHRO process, but employers and other defendants are likely to have legal representation.
What are the deadlines for filing a complaint of discrimination?
A complaint must generally be filed with the CHRO within 180 days of the last discriminatory act or acts (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-82(e)). There are very few exceptions for lateness, and GLAD encourages people to move promptly in filing claims.
Can I file more than one type of discrimination complaint at once?
Yes. Connecticut’s public accommodations non-discrimination laws forbid discriminating against someone because of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression as well as race, color, religious creed, age, sex, marital status, national origin, ancestry, disability, lawful source of income or veteran status (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-64).
What happens after a complaint is filed with the CHRO?
When you file a complaint with the CHRO, you will be given a packet of information explaining the CHRO procedures and deadlines. Please review these and follow the deadlines.
The complaint will be served on your respondent, who must answer the complaint under oath within 30 days. If you wish to respond or comment on your respondent’s answer, you have 15 days to do so.
Within 60 days of receiving the respondent’s answer, the CHRO will review the complaint and determine if any further investigation is necessary. This is called a merit assessment review (MAR). It is based solely on your original complaint, the answer, and any additional comments you make regarding the answer. Since many cases are dismissed at this stage of the proceedings, GLAD recommends that you reply to the respondent’s answer.
If the case is dismissed, you will be given 15 days to request the right to move your complaint from CHRO into the courts. If you do not request to remove your complaint, the CHRO will review your case and decide whether to uphold the dismissal or reinstate your complaint.
If the case is not dismissed, an investigator will be assigned and a mandatory mediation conference will be held within 60 days. If negotiations fail to produce a settlement agreeable to all parties, either party or the CHRO can request early legal intervention. The CHRO has 90 days to decide whether to grant this request. If granted, a Hearing Officer will be appointed to decide the merits of the case in a trial-type hearing.
If there is no request for early legal intervention, then the investigator will continue to collect evidence and will make a determination of “reasonable cause” or “no reasonable cause.” If a finding of “reasonable cause” is made, you can request either to have the case heard at the CHRO or to move it to Superior Court. If a finding of “no reasonable cause” is made, you have 15 days to request reconsideration.
What are the legal remedies the CHRO may award for discrimination if an individual wins their case there?
Cease and desist orders and other relief that would fulfill the purposes of the anti-discrimination laws. The CHRO may also order civil fines to be paid to the state (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-86 (a); sec. 46a-64 (c)).
Should I take my case away from the CHRO and file in court? How do I do so?
This is a decision you should make with your lawyer. Greater damages are available to you in state court than at the CHRO, including emotional distress damages and attorney’s fees.
To sue an entity in state court as opposed to the CHRO, you must follow several steps and meet various deadlines (Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-101 to 46a-102).
• Your complaint must have been filed on time at the CHRO (i.e., within 180 days of the last act of discrimination);
• Your complaint must have been pending with the CHRO more than 180 days (although if you and your employer agree to request the case’s removal to court, you may do so before the 180 days elapse) or the merit assessment review must have been completed;
• You must request a release of your complaint from the CHRO for the purpose of filing a court action, which the CHRO must grant except when the case is scheduled for public hearing, or they believe the complaint can be resolved within 30 days;
• You must file your court action within 2 years of the date of filing your complaint with the CHRO; and
• You must file your court action within 90 days after you receive a release from the CHRO to file your case in court.
Can I also file a discrimination complaint with a federal agency?
Yes, in many cases. Since federal law and state law contain overlapping provisions, someone bringing a discrimination claim may sometimes pursue protections under both. For example, the federal employment non-discrimination law, called Title VII, applies to employers with at least 15 employees and forbids employment discrimination based on race, sex, age, religion, and disability (which includes HIV status).
While Title VII does not expressly forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, a growing number of courts and government agencies have taken the position that its proscription against sex discrimination encompasses both (See, e.g., United States & Dr. Rachel Tudor v. Southeastern Oklahoma State University, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89547 (2015) (denying motion to dismiss professor’s Title VII complaint that school had subjected her to a hostile work environment based on her gender identity)). In two separate decisions in 2012 and 2016, the EEOC itself concluded that sexual orientation discrimination, gender identity discrimination, and sex discrimination are one and the same, since the latter two are based on preferences, assumptions, expectations, stereotypes, and norms associated with masculinity and femininity (See Macy v. Holder, EEOC Appeal No. 0120120821 (Apr. 20, 2012); Baldwin v. Foxx, EEOC Appeal No. 0120133080 (July 15, 2015)). Although the EEOC’s decisions are not binding on the courts, many have used similar reasoning in affirming Title VII’s applicability to discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation (See, e.g., Smith v. City of Salem, 378 F.3d 566 (6th Cir. 2004) (holding that Title VII prohibits discrimination against transgender people based on gender stereotyping); Videckis v. Pepperdine Univ., 150 F. Supp. 3d 1151, 1160 (C.D. Cal. 2015) (holding “sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex or gender discrimination”)).
Should I file a complaint with a federal agency?
GLAD recommends that, where there may be overlapping state and federal jurisdiction, you explore filing with CHRO first but keep in mind the possibility of pursuing a federal claim as well. Federal complaints must be filed within 180 days of the discriminatory act with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). However, if you initially institute your complaint with CHRO and indicate that you wish to have the complaint cross-filed with the EEOC, then the time limit is extended to the earlier of 300 days or 30 days after CHRO has terminated the case (United States Code 42 sec. 2000e-5(e)(1)). (People who work for federal agencies are beyond the scope of this publication.)
If you have a sexual orientation or gender identity complaint, you should check off “sex” as well as “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” as the bases for your claim and request that CHRO cross-file your complaint with the EEOC.
Are there other options for filing a complaint for discrimination?
Possibly yes, depending on the facts of your particular situation.
- State or Federal Court: After filing with the CHRO, EEOC, or both, you may decide to remove your discrimination case from those agencies and file in court. There are rules about when and how this must be done as discussed above.
In addition, you may wish to bring a court case to address other claims which are not appropriately handled by discrimination agencies. For example, if you are fired in violation of a contract, fired without the progressive discipline promised in a handbook, or fired for doing something your employer doesn’t like but which the law requires, these matters are beyond the scope of what the agencies can investigate and the matter should be pursued in court. Similarly, if your claim involves a violation of constitutional rights—for instance, if you are a teacher or governmental employee who believes his or her free speech or equal protection rights were violated—then those matters must also be heard in court.
What can I do to prepare myself before filing a complaint of discrimination?
Contact GLAD Answers at www.GLADAnswers.org or by phone at 800-455-4523 (GLAD) any weekday to discuss options.
As a general matter, people who are still working with or residing under discriminatory conditions have to evaluate how filing a case will affect their job or housing, and if they are willing to assume those possible consequences. Even if you have been fired or evicted, you may decide it is not worth it to pursue a discrimination claim. This is an individual choice which should be made after gathering enough information to make an informed decision. Some people prefer to meet with an attorney to evaluate the strength of their claims. It is always helpful to bring the attorney an outline of what happened, organized by date and with an explanation of who the various players are (and how to get in touch with them).
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