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Under Connecticut Disability Law, It Sometimes Pays to Be Wrong

The Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (CFEPA) does not protect individuals who are erroneously “regarded as” physically disabled, according to a recent decision by the Connecticut Appellate Court, Desrosiers v. Diageo North America, Inc.  In other words, if an employer discriminates against an employee for having a physical disability, and it turns out the employee is not disabled, the employer is free from liability under the CFEPA.  A common scenario occurs when an employee has a physical condition that outwardly appears like a disability but does not meet the legal definition.

The Desrosiers decision places the CFEPA in stark contrast with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which explicitly protects individuals who are regarded as disabled from discrimination, just like their disabled counterparts.  The key exception under federal law is that the statute’s requirement to reasonably accommodate individuals with disabilities does not extend to those who are only regarded as disabled.

While this decision provides a useful legal defense for employers, it should have very little practical impact on how Connecticut employers operate.  First, employers with 15 or more employees are covered by both the Connecticut law and the federal law, so they will not escape the federal law’s coverage of those “regarded as” disabled.  Second, the decision applies only to physical disabilities.  Individuals regarded as mentally disabled are explicitly protected from discrimination under the CFEPA.  Despite its limited application, this new decision may help a few employers who guess wrong.

Brody and Associates regularly provides counsel on the ADA, as well as other civil rights issues and employment laws in general.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.965.0560.