• New Procedures for Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities Effective October 1st
  • August 5, 2011 | Authors: Tokunbo Akinbajo; Tanya Ann Bovee; Beverly W. Garofalo; Margaret J. Strange
  • Law Firms: Jackson Lewis LLP - White Plains Office ; Jackson Lewis LLP - Hartford Office
  • Legislation significantly amending the procedures governing how the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities will process complaints takes effect October 1, 2011.  Although new Public Act No. 11-237 is an attempt to shorten the time that a charge remains pending at the CHRO once a merit assessment review is completed, how well it accomplishes this is open to question.  The amendments include significant changes that allow the CHRO’s attorneys to reinstate a complaint that was dismissed at the merit assessment review stage and explicitly authorize agency investigators to conduct interviews and site visits, subpoena documents, seek requests for admission of facts, and issue interrogatories.

    Merit Assessment Review
    The merit assessment review process is unchanged.  The CHRO has 90 days from the filing of the respondent’s answer to the complaint to conduct a merit assessment review.  Following the review, the agency may dismiss a case if: (1) the complaint fails to state a claim for relief; (2) the complaint is frivolous on its face; (3) the respondent-employer, such as an employer with fewer than three employees, is exempt from the public act; or (4) there is no reasonable possibility that investigating the complaint will result in a finding of reasonable cause.

    New Procedures
    Following are the new procedures once the merit assessment review is completed:

    • Release of Jurisdiction. A complainant may request a release of jurisdiction from the CHRO after completion of the merit assessment review or once the charge has been pending 180 days from the date of its filing, whichever is earlier.  Upon receipt of the release, the complainant may file a civil action in court.

    • Additional Review.  If a complainant does not request a release of jurisdiction within 15 days after receiving notice that the CHRO dismissed the charge at the merit assessment review, the agency’s legal department, within 60 days of the merit assessment review, will conduct a legal review to determine whether to reinstate or deny reinstatement of the complaint.  This additional level of review may make it even more difficult to get charges dismissed.

    • Mandatory Mediation.  If the complaint is retained at the merit assessment review for investigation, the parties must participate in a mandatory mediation conference with an investigator or CHRO attorney within 60 days of the merit assessment review.

    • Fact-Finding Conference and Investigation.  If the matter is not resolved at mandatory mediation, the CHRO will assign an investigator within 15 days after the date of the mediation.  The investigator may conduct a fact-finding conference and a complete investigation, which may include individual witness interviews, requests for voluntary disclosure of information, subpoenas of witnesses or documents, requests for admission of facts, interrogatories, site visits or any other lawful means of finding facts.

    • Dismissal for Lack of Cooperation.  If the complainant fails to attend a mandatory mediation or fact-finding conference, upon notice and without good cause, the complaint may be dismissed.

    • Early Legal Intervention. If mediation is unsuccessful, a party or the CHRO may request “early legal intervention.” If this request is made, the executive director must determine within 90 days whether the charge should be certified for a public hearing, whether the agency should issue a release of jurisdiction, whether the charge should proceed to fact-finding conference, or whether to recommend the investigator make a finding of no reasonable cause (the investigator must make that finding unless he or she believes the executive director has made a mistake of fact).