In a unanimous decision due to be published on May 15, the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that employers can be held liable for failing to protect employees from harassment based upon sexual orientation.
In Patino v. Birken Manufacturing Company, a former employee of the jet engine component maker Birken Manufacturing, Co. accused the company of failing to take reasonable steps to prevent his coworkers from harassing him based on his sexual orientation over a period of many years. The state’s highest court rejected the employer’s argument that hostile work environment claims are limited to sexual harassment cases. Importantly, the decision appears to be the first supreme court decision from any state to expressly hold that harassment based on sexual orientation is actionable to the same extent as sexual harassment or racial harassment. The court also rejected the company’s claim that the jury’s award of $94,500 in damages was too high.
Employers in all states should take notice of this significant decision. Connecticut is one of 20 states, along with the District of Columbia, whose anti-discrimination laws cover sexual orientation.