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Hostile Work Environments Based on Any Protected Status Are Unlawful in Connecticut

Although sexual harassment is the kind of harassment we hear about most, the Connecticut Supreme Court recently affirmed that the state antidiscrimination statute applies to harassment based on other protected statuses, even though it appears to single out sexual harassment.  The case dealt with harassment based on sexual orientation.

The Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision makes clear that Connecticut employers must not tolerate discrimination based on any of the state’s protected classes: “race, color, religious creed, age, sex, gender identity or expression, marital status, national origin, ancestry, present or past history of mental disability, intellectual disability, learning disability or physical disability, including, but not limited to, blindness.”  Small employers take note – you may be exempt from federal antidiscrimination laws, which apply to businesses with fifteen or more employees, but Connecticut laws apply to employers with three or more employees.

It is hotly debated whether Title VII, the federal antidiscrimination statute covering sex discrimination, forbids discrimination – including harassment – based on sexual orientation.  Most circuits say no.  Recent cases have held that Title VII does protect transsexual employees from discrimination based on gender identity.

Employers should respond to this decision by reviewing their policies and training to ensure they make clear that harassment based on any protected status is prohibited and will lead to discipline, up to and including discharge.  Harassment based on gender identity, Connecticut’s newest protected class, should be on your mind.  Research suggests nearly all transsexual employees – 97 percent – encounter harassment in the workplace.  If you have not included gender identity or any other protected classes in your policies and training, you are leaving yourself at great risk. 

Brody and Associates regularly provides training and counseling on maintaining a harassment free environment and on employment law issues in general. If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.965.0560