Perceived Disability Claims in Connecticut

Until December 2014, the State of Connecticut allowed disability discrimination claims only when the discriminatory conduct was allegedly perpetrated in response to an actual disability. On December 16, 2014, the Connecticut Supreme Court issued its opinion in Desrosiers v. Diageo North America, Inc., 314 Conn. 773 (Conn. 2014), broadening the disability discrimination claims that may be brought to include claims premised upon whether the employer perceived the employee to have a disability (without regard to whether the employee had an actual disability). The Court reasoned that “the legislature’s overarching intent to ‘stamp out discrimination on the basis of physical disability and a wide range of other disabilities (mental disability, learning disability, and mental retardation)’; Curry v. Allan S. Goodman, Inc., supra, 286 Conn. 412; coupled with its efforts to be as inclusive as possible in defining the term physical disability, is consistent with interpreting § 46a-60(a)(1) to protect individuals who are perceived to be physically disabled.”

In Desrosiers, the Plaintiff alleged discrimination on the basis of race, color, age, physical disability and perceived physical disability. Ms. Desrosiers’ perceived disability claim asserted that the employer believed that she suffered from a disability after she informed it of her need to undergo a tumor removal surgery, and that it then discriminated against her based upon this belief because it subsequently (and quickly) terminated her employment. The perceived disability claim was dismissed by the trial court because prior precedent required the employee to have an actual disability. In other words, prior precedent confirmed the position that Connecticut did not recognize claims of discrimination premised upon a perceived disability. Notably, all other claims were tried to a jury, which decided in favor of the employer. The Plaintiff appealed only the dismissal of the perceived disability claim to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the claim. However, those decisions were reversed by the Connecticut Supreme Court, which held that perceived disability claims were within the public policy expressed by the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act. Consequently, perceived disability claims are now permitted in Connecticut.

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