Sexual Orientation Can Give Rise to Hostile Work Environment Claim

By now, most employees are aware that they may not be discriminated against in the workplace based upon such considerations as race, gender, national origin, age, or disability.  In a recent decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court added to that list workplace harassment because of sexual orientation.

In Patino v. Birken Manufactuaring Co., 304 Conn. 679 (2012), the Connecticut Supreme Court held that the section of the Connecticut General Statutes prohibiting employer discrimination against employees because of their sexual orientation additionally creates a cause of action for hostile work environment where employees suffer harassment from their co-workers based upon their sexual orientation.

In Patino, the plaintiff claimed that he was harassed by co-workers because of his sexual orientation and that his employer did nothing to remedy the situation.  Specifically, the plaintiff’s co-workers uttered derogatory multi-lingual slurs against homosexuals while in the plaintiff’s presence.  Initially, the plaintiff did not report the incidents to his employer choosing, instead, to record them in a diary.  Later, the employee complained to a supervisor about the derogatory slurs and an “all hands” meeting was held to address the problem.

Unfortunately, after the meeting, the harassment continued, leading to the transfer of one of the offending employees to another facility.  The remaining workers, however, continued with the derogatory references.  For several years thereafter, the plaintiff wrote numerous letters of complaint to his employer and filed five Complaints with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (the state administrative agency charged with initial investigation of claims of employment discrimination).  The last of these Complaints proceeded to trial where the plaintiff won, and a jury awarded him $94,500 in noneconomic damages.

On appeal, the company claimed that the statute in question (C.G.S. § 46a-81c) made no reference to “hostile environment” or “hostile workplace” and the plaintiff was therefore not possessed of a viable claim arising from a hostile work environment.  The employer also argued that to be actionable, the offending slurs would have to be spoken directly to the plaintiff notwithstanding the fact that federal courts have ruled that discriminatory statements made outside the employee’s presence can be actionable.  Finally, the employer argued that derogatory slurs spoken in languages other than that of the employee could not form the basis for liability.

The Connecticut Supreme Court was uniformly unimpressed with the employer’s arguments and unanimously affirmed the decision of the trial court.  Thus, the highest court of this state has spoken about the scope of the prohibitions contained in a state statute and the issue appears well-settled: an employee can sue his or her employer for failing to remedy a hostile work environment emanating from derogatory statements concerning sexual orientation.

The employment law attorneys in the Westport, Connecticut office of Maya Murphy, P.C. have extensive experience in the negotiation and litigation of all sorts of workplace-related claims and assist clients from Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Fairfield and resolving such issues.  Should you have any questions about workplace discrimination or any other employment law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut, by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

 

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