DCF: legal Issues

Connecticut's Laws - LGBTQI  Issues and Discrimination

Do you have questions about your rights?  Do you know which Connecticut laws protect LGBT Individuals?  Have you been harrassed at work for being Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender?  Have you been fired?  Do you have questions about adopting, fostering or mentoring a child?  Do you know where to turn for help?  Follow the links below for answers to your questions. 

Connecticut Anti-Discrimination Law  
             

Does Connecticut have an anti-discrimination law protecting gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals from discrimination?

Yes.  In 1991, Connecticut became one of a handful of states to pass a comprehensive anti-discrimination law concerning sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations and credit.

Does it also protect people perceived of as gay, lesbian, and bisexual?

Yes.  The non-discrimination law defines "sexual orientation" as "having a preference for heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality, having a history of such preference or being identified with such preference..."1   The language of "having a history of such a preference," and the language of "being identified with" should allow a person who is fired because they are (inaccurately) perceived to be gay to invoke the protection of the anti-discrimination law to challenge the firing.

Does it also protect people associated with gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals?

Not specifically.  But in some situations, if a person is fired from a job or evicted from their home because they hang out with someone who is gay or lesbian, it may be possible to show that they were fired or evicted because the employer or landlord also thought they, too, were gay or lesbian.  This would fall under the language in the law which provides protection to people "being identified with" a same-sex sexual orientation.

1Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-81a.


Employment Discrimination                  

What does the employment provisions say?  To whom does the law apply?

The non-discrimination law forbids employers from refusing to hire a person, or discharging them, or discriminating against them "in compensation, or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment" because of sexual orientation.2  This covers most significant job actions, such as hiring, firing, failure to promote, demotion, excessive discipline, harassment and different treatment of the employee and similarly situated co-workers. 

In addition, employment agencies may not participate in discrimination by refusing to properly classify or refer them for employment or otherwise discriminate because of sexual orientation.3   Labor organizations (e.g. unions) may not deny or exclude membership in the union because of sexual orientation, or otherwise discriminate against its members because of sexual orientation.4

The law forbids all of these entities from advertising in such a way as to restrict employment because of sexual orientation.5

The State of Connecticut and its agencies are forbidden from discriminating based on sexual orientation both in their own employment practices as well as in their provision of services.6   The law imposes an affirmative obligation on state agencies to adopt rules to enforce the non-discrimination provisions and to establish training programs.7   Contractors who provide services to the state (and any subcontractors they hire) must also certify in writing that they will not discriminate based on sexual orientation when fulfilling the contract terms.8

Does the law apply to every employer in Connecticut?

No. As broad as the law is, there are several exemptions to its application.

  • An employer must employ 3 or more persons in order to be subject to the non-discrimination law.9 
  • An employer, agency or labor organization may defend against a discrimination claim by arguing that a "bona fide occupational qualification" of the particular job is that it has someone in it who is non-gay.10 But there are no general occupational exemptions from the reach of the non-discrimination law, and this defense is very rarely successful.11
  • Religious corporations, associations and educational institutions are sometimes exempt from the law.12    The exemption applies concerning employment of those who perform work to carry out the activities of such religious organizations, as well as to matters of discipline, faith, internal organization or rules established by the religious entity.  Although the exemption is broad, it is not a carte blanche for an employer to use his or her religious beliefs as a justification for discriminating against a gay person.13 
  • The ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) program, which is established under federal law to provide officers to the U.S. military, may continue to discriminate in its "conduct and administration" at colleges and universities.14 

Does Connecticut law forbid sexual harassment on the job?

Yes. Connecticut law defines sexual harassment as:

   "unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature when (A) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment, (B) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or (C)  such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment."15

A claim of harassment can be pursued under Conn. Gen. Stat.  sec. 46a-60(a)(8)16

Can I file a complaint of sexual harassment even if I'm gay?

Yes.  It is as unlawful to sexually harass a gay, lesbian or bisexual person as it is to harass a non-gay person.  Some harassment is specifically anti-gay, and may be more fairly characterized as harassment on the basis of sexual orientation.  Other harassment is sexual in nature and more appropriately categorized as "sexual harassment."  Both types of harassment can happen to the same person, and both are forbidden.

Both the United States Supreme Court and several state courts have found same-sex sexual harassment to violate sexual harassment laws.17 


Employment Discrimination for LGBT Workers

Legal Protections in the Workplace for LGBT Individuals

In 1991, Connecticut enacted state law that protects individual employees from discrimination in the workplace based on their sexual orientation. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-81c.

Who is protected?

Connecticut’s anti-discrimination law prohibits discrimination in employment against any employee who is gay, lesbian or bisexual or who is identifed as being gay, lesbian or bisexual. You do not have to be “out” to be protected. You do not even have to be gay to be protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation..

Does it apply to all employers?

Connecticut’s anti-discrimination law pertains to most employers with three or more employees. Connecticut’s law does not apply to religious organizations with respect to the employment of individuals to perform work connected with the carrying on of its religious activities. Nor does it protect persons employed by their parents, spouse or child, or anyone working in domestic service.

What constitutes discrimination?

Determining what constitutes discrimination can be tricky. Some actions (or inaction) are clearly discriminatory. Hiring or termination decisions cannot be based on an individual’s sexual orientation. Connecticut also prohibits discrimination in terms, conditions or privileges of employment. As a result, employment decisions beyond hiring and firing may also not be based on an employee’s sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. This prohibition includes the employer’s decisions regarding compensation, promotion, job classification, training, demotion, and transfer as well as many other terms of employment.

What counts as a term of employment may be quite broad. It includes denial of job promotions, benefits, and performance evaluations. In addition, an employer may not discriminate in shift, holiday, or vacation preferences based on an employee’s sexual orientation or perceived orientation. Nor may an employer assign a gay employee less preferable duties on the grounds of sexual orientation.

It is not possible to identify everything which may count as a term, condition or privilege of employment in a particular workplace. As a general rule, an employer must not treat similarly situated gay and non-gay employees differently. Different treatment of gay employees because they are gay amounts to discrimination. For example, if non-gay employees generally discuss details of their personal lives in the workplace, including conversations about their spouses, an employer could not discipline only gay employees for engaging in the exact same conduct. Such discipline would amount to a denial of an employment privilege based on sexual orientation. As a second example, consider the case of an employer who receives complaints from co-workers about a particular gay employee. If the employer typically investigates co-worker complaints about a non-gay employee before crediting them, the employer may not credit the co-worker complaints about the gay employee without a similar investigation.

Another type of different treatment may occur when a gay employee is singled out and harassed by co-workers or supervisory personnel. For example, co-workers might make disparaging or homophobic comments to the gay employee. Where these comments are sexual in nature, the employee may also have a claim for sexual harassment. (See discussion below.) If the comments are not necessarily of a sexual nature and the employee has not suffered an adverse consequence, a gay employee may still have a claim for discrimination where the homophobic or disparaging remarks affect the employee’s ability to do the job.

GLAD has heard of a number of situations where, once co-workers found out that one of their co-workers was gay, the co-workers started interpreting the gay employee’s conversations and actions as sexual harassment. For the reasons discussed above, an employer should not validate a charge of sexual harassment made by a non-gay employee against a gay employee where the gay employee has simply discussed his/her personal life to the same extent non-gay people discuss their personal lives. Singling out the gay employee for disciplinary action based on the gay employee’s conversations about personal matters generally commented on in the workplace by non-gay employees is likely discrimination.

The mere fact of discrimination does not guarantee a successful lawsuit. Proving the legal responsibility of an employer for such anti-gay harassment may turn on whether the comments were made by co-workers or by supervisory personnel and what, if any, response the employer had when the gay employee reported the misconduct. As a general matter, Connecticut courts have followed the federal courts’ interpretations in the area of employer liability for discrimination perpetrated by employees. The federal standard and the one Connecticut courts have applied is that an employer is liable for discrimination by a supervisory employer. With respect to discrimination by co-workers, an employer is liable for such misconduct if it knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to remedy it.

What must I show to prove I have been discriminated against?

You must prove that sexual orientation was a motivating factor in whatever employment decision forms the basis of your discrimination claim. Once you do that, your employer has to show that it would have taken the same action even if your employer did not know or perceive that you are gay. As long as you can show that your sexual orientation was a motivating factor for your employer’s discriminatory conduct, in order to avoid liability, your employer must show that it would have taken the same action even if it had not taken your sexual orientation into account.

Do laws prohibiting sexual harassment apply to gay people?

Absolutely. Connecticut’s anti-discrimination law prohibits sexual harassment. This means that an employer may not condition any employment decisions on an employee’s submission to unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors. Nor may an employer permit or condone conduct that creates a hostile or offensive working environment. The language of the state law and recent guidance from the Supreme Court in construing federal anti-discrimination law suggests that state prohibitions on sexual harassment apply equally to gay and non-gay employees. This means that prohibitions on sexual harassment pertain to men who harass men (whether gay or non-gay) as well as to women who harass women (whether gay or non-gay).

As stated above, Connecticut courts have typically been guided by the federal courts’ interpretation of anti-discrimination law. Assuming this trend continues, recent decisions of the Supreme Court suggest an employer is strictly liable for sexual harassment by a supervisor when the sexual harassment results in the employer taking an adverse employment action such as discipline, denial of a promotion, or reassignment. When no tangible employment action is taken but the employee charges a supervisor with sexual harassment, the employer may defend by proving that the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct the sexually harassing behavior, and the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer, such as sexual harassment policies.

Where the sexual harassment is perpetrated by co-workers, an employer is liable for the conduct if it knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate steps to remedy it.

Can I be fired for complaining about discrimination or sexual harassment?

No.  Some employees worry that if they exercise their right to redress sexual orientation discrimination then their employer will retaliate against them. Connecticut’s anti-discrimination law prohibits retaliation by an employer against an employee because the employee files a complaint of discrimination or assists someone else in the prosecution of a complaint. This prohibition covers any steps taken by an employer including expulsion or termination in retaliation for an employee making efforts under the anti-discrimination law to stop unlawful discrimination. If the employer retaliates, the employee faces the same choices about how to respond to the retaliation as with discriminatory acts of the employer.

What do I do if I think I have been discriminated against?

The decision of how to respond to discrimination in the workplace is a difficult and very personal one. Each case is different and you are well-advised to seek peer and legal advice before deciding how to proceed. A document as broad as this one cannot incorporate every job scenario and discrimination nuance and as a result can serve, at best, as an incomplete checklist of alternatives to consider.

A person subjected to discrimination in the workplace has a number of non-litigation alternatives which may or may not be effective removing problems attendant with being the object of discrimination. What follows is an incomplete list of options followed by some discussion of the ramifications of each alternative. When weighing the alternatives, do not ignore physical safety concerns and keep in mind that most legal recourse requires a lengthy period of litigation. Some of these options can be pursued simultaneously. The decision about how to proceed is yours. To fully consider the ramifications of all of the choices, you should consult an attorney.

You can:

  • Tolerate the Discrimination. People remain in jobs where they experience discrimination for a variety of reasons. Economic necessity is one of the foremost factors to consider in deciding whether or not to complain about discrimination. Some people live in small (or not so small) communities where complaining about workplace discrimination could have devastating personal repercussions which are simply not worth risking. If you choose to remain in a job where you are discriminated against, it may be advisable to seek support from friends or family to minimize the damaging effects of such discrimination.

  • Leave Without Challenging the Discrimination. Most employment is at-will. From the employee’s perspective, this means that you may quit your current position for any reason or no reason at all. Sometimes the best option is to quickly remove yourself from a workplace where you are discriminated against and for many of the reasons discussed above, the repercussions of seeking redress are not worth the risks.

    Even if your position is a contractual one, and not at-will, an employer could be persuaded not to enforce a contract term in exchange for an employee’s agreement not to take legal action in pursuing a legal remedy.

  • Follow Internal Grievance Procedures. Many employers provide internal grievance procedures when an employee has suffered discrimination in the workplace. This is particularly true for employers that have anti-sexual harassment policies. Sometimes, curtailing discriminatory conduct of a supervisor or a co-worker is as simple as notifying human resource personnel who may be responsible for ensuring a workplace free from discrimination. There may be reasons to follow internal grievance procedures even if you are convinced an employer is unwilling to redress your concerns. A court or administrative agency that hears your claim may determine that your failure to follow internal procedures deprived your employer an opportunity to rectify the situation.

    On the other hand, there may be reasons not to follow internal grievance procedures. Notifying an employer about discrimination could (where confidentiality is not adequately maintained) result in your being more “out” than you prefer as your employer could disseminate information about your sexual orientation to others in the workplace.

    Again, you should consider all of the possible repercussions of your choices. Note, however, that recent caselaw suggests that an employer may successfully defend against a charge of sexual harassment if you unreasonably fail to avail yourself of opportunities provided you to notify your employer of the misconduct. An employer with a sexual harassment policy would likely vigorously defend against a charge of sexual harassment where an employee failed to follow internal grievance procedures.

  • Take Intermediate Steps in Anticipation of Litigation.
    1. Make a chronology of events leading up to and following the discrimination. Include as much detail as possible including names, witnesses, a description of events, locations, etc. Be sure to write down all offensive comments or actions. Retain this chronology; do not provide it to your employer.
    2. Save any written notes, articles, documents, or letters you received during the as a result of the discriminatory actions.
    3. Try to get a letter of recommendation when appropriate. A letter of recommendation can be extremely useful if you press your case legally.
    4. Obtain your personnel file. Connecticut law requires that an employer provide a copy of an employee’s personnel record upon the employee’s written request. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-128g.
    5. Retain all written policies, procedures, and employee manuals you receive during the course of your employment.
    6. Apply for unemployment. Even if you do not think you will be eligible because you were fired, filing for unemployment clearly signals your employer that you do not agree with the employer’s actions.

  • Take Legal Action. Connecticut prohibits sexual orientation discrimination, and you do have legal recourse.

What do I do if I want to take legal action?

Determining how to proceed depends on whether you work for the State of Connecticut or for a private-sector employer. For claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation, employees working for private-sector employees must first file a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO). Connecticut state employees may bypass the CHRO and sue the state directly in court. Because the CHRO is more limited in the types of damages it can award, persons who may sue in state court are well advised to do so. You may contact the CHRO by calling (800) 541-3400 or by writing to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities at 21 Grand Street Hartford, CT 06106.

When must I file a complaint with the Commission?

All complaints with the Commission must be filed within 180 days after an employee has been subjected to discrimination by the employer. This is a firm deadline. The Commission generally allows no exceptions; failure to file within 180 days of the discriminatory conduct will result in your case being dismissed.

Do any other laws protect me?

Although federal anti-discrimination law does not yet protect employees from discrimination rooted in sexual orientation, federal law provides relief for victims of sexual harassment regardless of the sexual orientation of the harasser or victim. Federal law also provides relief for sex and disability discrimination which may also be applicable in some cases. When applicable, an employee may file a complaint both with the CHRO and the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In certain circumstances, promises made by employers in personnel manuals, written employment policies, and employee handbooks can be contractually binding on the employer. This contractually binding commitment can apply to anti-discrimination policies contained in such documents. The law in this area can be complicated; any aggrieved employee who believes that promises made by an employer in such documents have not been met should consult an attorney. In any case, all employees should keep copies of all personnel manuals and materials distributed during the course of their employment.

2Conn. Gen. Stat.  sec. 46a-81c(1). 
3Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-81c(2).
4Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-81c(3).
5Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-81c(4).
6See generally Conn. Gen. Stat. secs. 46a-81g to 46a-81o.
7Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-81h.
8Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-81i(d).
9Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-51(10).
10Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-81c.
11See, e.g.  The Evening Sentinel et al. v. National Organization for Women, 168 Conn. 26, 36 (1975)("A BFOQ exists only if no member of the class excluded is physically capable of performing the tasks required by the job"); Conn. Institute for the Blind v. CHRO, 176 Conn. 88 (1978)("The standard for a BFOQ purposely imposes a heavy burden on an employer whose refusal to hire is prima facie discriminatory").
12Conn. Gen. Stat. 46a-81p.
13Compare Hartwig v. Albertus Mangus, 93 F.Supp.2d 200, 211, 217 (2000)(gay man who alleged breach of contract because of his sexual orientation could have his claims of breach of contract, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress heard without violating free exercise or establishment clause principles).  (Note that the statutes pertaining to discrimination based on characteristics other than sexual orientation contain no express religious exemption.  See CHRO v. Archdiocesan School Office, 202 Conn. 601 (1987)(lower court erred in dismissing case against Catholic School on basis of wholesale religious exemption; issues were not ripe for adjudication)).
14Conn. Gen. Stat.  sec. 46a-81q.
15Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-60(a)(8).
16(making it unlawful "for an employer, employment agency, or labor organization, by themselves or through agents, "to harass any employee, person seeking employment, or member on the basis of sex").
17Compare Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, 523 U.S. 75, 118 S.Ct. 998 (1998)(man can sue for sexual harassment by other men under federal sexual harassment laws); Melnychenko v. 84 Lumber Co., 424 Mass. 285, 676 N.E.2d 45 (1997)(same-sex sexual harassment forbidden under state law).


Public Accomodations Discrimination 

What is a "place of public accommodation"?

A place of public accommodation is "any establishment which caters or offers its services or facilities or goods to the general public . . ." and you are protected by the non-discrimination laws in such places.18 This definition is intentionally broad.

What does the law say about discrimination in places of public accomodation?

Such places may not deny full and equal accommodations, or discriminate in any way because of a person's sexual orientation.19   There are a number of irrelevant exemptions in the general law on public accommodation non-discrimination.20 

A specific law also forbids discrimination at golf clubs on the basis of sexual orientation.21

If a person is denied membership or access to facilities because of sexual orientation, he or she can file a complaint in Superior Court to restraint further violations and recover actual damages (or at least  $250) as well as costs and attorney's fees.22

18Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-63(1). 
19Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-81d.
20See Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-64 (b).
21Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 52-571d.
22Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 52-571d (g).


Housing Discrimination

What is prohibited by the housing anti-discrimination law in Connecticut?

The housing laws are intended to prohibit discrimination for transactions related to residential housing, whether listing, buying, selling, renting or financing, and whether for profit or not, and whether public or private.  Other practices are forbidden, too, such as advertising in a way limited by sexual orientation, representing that a dwelling is not available when in fact it is, denying access to a multiple listing service, or altering the terms of a transaction because of sexual orientation.23

Are any landlords exempt from the housing anti-discrimination law?

The main exemption to the law allows owners who actually live in a building with not more than four units to disregard the law if they choose.24 (Note that the exemption for other characteristics is a two-family owner-occupied dwelling.25 

23Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-81e.
24Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-81e(b). 
25Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-64c (9)(b)(1)).


Credit Discrimination


What protections exist under Connecticut anti-discrimination law with regard to credit?

Any person who "regularly extends or arranges for the extension of credit" for which interest or finance charges are imposed (e.g. a bank, credit union, or other financial institution), may not discriminate because of sexual orientation (or marital status)  in any credit transaction.26 

For example, GLAD brought and settled a claim against a credit union which refused to allow an effeminate looking man from applying for a loan until he came back looking more masculine.  A federal court ruled that this stated a claim of sex discrimination.27 

26Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-81f (prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation); sec. 46a-65 (2)(defining "creditor"); sec. 46a-66 (other bases of prohibited discrimination).
27Rosa v. Park West Bank, 214 F.3d 213 (1st Cir. 2000).


Transgender / Gender Identity Discrimination 

What protections exist for transgendered people under the discrimination laws?

Yes, HB 6599, AN ACT CONCERNING DISCRIMINATION, prohibits discrimination in various contexts, which includes not only sexual orientation, but gender identity and expression, was signed into law on July 1, 2011 by Governor Malloy and is effective beginning on October 1, 2011.

Connecticut Governor signed into law HB 6599, a bill prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. In addition to guaranteeing a level playing field in employment, the new law will ensure that housing opportunities are made available to all, students are free from discrimination in schools, and no one has to forego basic needs such as heat or telephone services based solely on who they are.  It is well-documented that transgender and gender non-conforming individuals are shown less desirable properties for purchase or rent, are excluded from schools activities, receive less favorable customer service, or encounter outright refusal of service. This law does not prevent employers from firing incompetent employees and do not prevent landlords from turning down unqualified renters.  Instead, this law simply makes sure that all employees get a fair chance at working hard to get ahead without discrimination or bias and that no one is singled out for arbitrary discrimination when it comes to areas like housing, education, public accommodations, utilities, and access to credit.

Beginning with an ordinance passed in Minneapolis in 1975, 14 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 135 cities and counties have enacted laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity.  More than 500 private businesses across the United States, including 42% of Fortune 500 companies and 69% of Fortune 100 companies, have voluntarily adopted policies that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.  Connecticut is now the 15th state guaranteeing protections from discrimination based on gender identity and expression. The state added sexual orientation to its non-discrimination laws in 1991. Addressing discrimination on the basis of gender identity is not new for Connecticut.  In 2004, Connecticut added gender identity to the categories protected under the hate crimes law.


Pursuing a Complaint

How do I file a complaint of discrimination?

You may file in person or in writing at the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO).  The main office of the CHRO is at 21 Grand St., Hartford, CT  06106.  You should call them because they will want you to file your case in the appropriate regional office.  Their number is (800) 477-5737 and you can reach their website at www.state.ct.us/chro.

The complaint must be under oath, state the name and address of the individual making the complaint as well as the entity he or she is complaining against (called the "respondent").  The complaint must set out the particulars of the alleged unlawful acts and it is advisable also to state the times they occurred.30 

If you are a state employee, you may file your case directly in court.  State employees can skip over the CHRO process entirely.

Do I need a lawyer?

No.  The process is designed to allow people to represent themselves.  However, GLAD strongly encourages people to find lawyers to represent them throughout the process.  Not only are there many legal rules governing the CHRO process, but also employers and other defendants are likely to have legal representation.

What are the deadlines for filing a complaint of discrimination?

For most people, a complaint must be filed with the CHRO within 180 days of the last discriminatory act or acts.31    There are very few exceptions for lateness, and GLAD encourages people to move promptly in filing claims.

Can I file more than one type of discrimination complaint at once, for example, if I believe I was fired both because I am a lesbian and Latina?

Yes.  The state non-discrimination laws for employment forbid taking an action against someone because of sexual orientation as well as race, color, religion, creed, age, sex, marital status, national origin, ancestry, present or past history of mental disorder, mental retardation, learning disability or physical disability.32  In housing, the criteria include most of the above as well as "lawful source of income or familial status."33    Public accommodations are also broad, but do not include a few of the above characteristics.34

What happens after a complaint is filed with the CHRO?

When you file a complaint with the CHRO, you will be given a packet of information explaining the CHRO procedures and deadlines.  Please review these and follow the deadlines.

After filing your complaint, and within 90 days of receiving the answer of the respondent, the CHRO will review the complaint and answer to determine if any further investigation is necessary.  This is called a merit assessment review.  Since many cases are dismissed at this stage of the proceedings, it is important that you reply to the respondent's answer within 15 days of receiving it.

After the merit assessment review, if the CHRO believes there is "reasonable cause" to believe discrimination occurred, it requires the parties to explore the possibilities of settling their differences.  If  negotiations fail to produce a settlement agreeable to all parties, the case proceeds further.  At that point, the parties may engage in limited "discovery" -- a legal process which allows the other side to examine the basis of your claim and allows you to examine their justifications and defenses.  This is conducted through written questions (interrogatories) and document requests.  Ultimately, if the case is not dismissed for technical reasons, a Hearing Officer will decide the merits of the case in a trial-type hearing.

Note that in housing discrimination cases, the CHRO must complete both its investigation and final disposition within 100 days of when the complaint is filed, unless it is impracticable to do so.35   

What are the legal remedies the CHRO may award for discrimination if an individual wins his or her case there?

Employment: may include hiring, reinstatement or upgrading, backpay, restoration in a labor organization, cease and desist orders, and other relief that would fulfill the purposes of the anti-discrimination laws (e.g. training programs, posting of notices).36   

(Note that when cases are filed in court, emotional distress damages and attorneys' fees are also available to a successful complainant.  These are not available from the CHRO.)37 

Housing: damages (expenses actually incurred because of unlawful action related to moving, storage, obtaining alternate housing); cease and desist orders,  reasonable attorney's fees and costs, and other relief that would fulfill the purposes of the anti-discrimination laws.38    The CHRO may also order civil fines to be paid to the state.39 

Public Accommodations:  cease and desist orders, and other relief that would fulfill the purposes of the anti-discrimination laws.  The CHRO may also order civil fines to be paid to the state.40 

Credit:  cease and desist orders, and other relief that would fulfill the purposes of the anti-discrimination laws (e.g. allowing person to apply for credit on non-discriminatory terms).41

Should I take my case away from the CHRO and file in court?  How do I do so?

This is a decision you should make with your lawyer.  Greater damages are available to you in state court than at the CHRO, including emotional distress damages and attorney's fees.

To sue an entity in state court as opposed to the CHRO, you must follow several steps and meet various deadlines.42 

  • Your complaint must have been filed on time at the CHRO (i.e., within 180 days of the last act of discrimination);
  • Your complaint must have been pending with the CHRO more than 210 days (although if you and your employer agree to request the case's removal to court, you may do so before the 210 days elapse);
  • You must request a release of your complaint from the CHRO for the purpose of filing a court action (which the CHRO must grant except when the case is scheduled for public hearing or they believe the complaint can be resolved within 30 days);
  • You must file your court action within 2 years of the date of filing your complaint with the CHRO; and
  • You must file your court action within 90 days after you receive a release from the CHRO to file your case in court.  

Are there other agencies at which I can file a complaint for discrimination?

Depending on the facts of your particular situation, you may be able to file your complaint of discrimination with other agencies.  This outline concerns only Connecticut non-discrimination law, and you may well have other rights.

1.         Union If you are a member of a union, your contract (collective bargaining agreement) may provide additional rights to you in the event of discipline, discharge or other job-related actions.  If you obtain relief under your contract, you may even decide not to pursue other remedies.  Get and read a copy of your contract and contact a union steward about filing a complaint.  Deadlines in contracts are strict.  Bear in mind that if your union refuses to assist you with a complaint, you may have a discrimination action against them for their failure to work with you, or for failure of their duty of fair representation.

2.         Federal Agencies: Sometimes an action states a claim for a violation of federal law in addition to state law.  For example,  federal law forbids discrimination based on race, sex, age, religion and disability, but not on the basis of sexual orientation.  Thus, a gay person with HIV who is fired from a job can file with the CHRO as well as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  To file claims under federal law, the employer must have at least 15 employees.  (People who work for federal agencies are beyond the scope of this publication.).

3.         State or Federal Court: After filing with the CHRO or EEOC, or both, as discussed above, a person may decide to remove his or her discrimination case from those agencies and file in court.  There are rules about when and how this must be done as discussed above.   In addition, a person may file a court case to address other claims which are not appropriately handled by discrimination agencies.  For example, if a person is fired in violation of a contract, or fired without the progressive discipline promised in a handbook, or fired for doing something the employer doesn't like but which the law requires, then these matters are beyond the scope of what the agencies can investigate and the matter should be pursued in court.  If a person has a claim for a violation of constitutional rights, such as a teacher who believes his or her free speech or equal protection rights were violated, then those matters must be heard in court.

What can I do if my employer fires me or my landlord evicts me for filing a complaint of discrimination?

It is illegal to retaliate in these circumstances, and the employee could file an additional complaint against the employer for retaliation.  "Retaliation" protections cover those who oppose any discriminatory employment practice, as well as those who participate in certain other proceedings.43    If the employer takes action against an employee because of that conduct, then the employee should be able to state a claim of retaliation.44 

What can I do to prepare myself before filing a complaint of discrimination?

Call the GLAD Legal InfoLine at 800-455-4523 (GLAD) any weekday between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. to talk about options.

As a general matter, people who are still working with or residing under discriminatory conditions have to evaluate how filing a case will affect their job or housing, and if they are willing to assume those possible consequences.  Of course, even if a person has been fired, or evicted, he or she may decide it is not worth it to pursue a discrimination claim.  This is an individual choice which should be made after gathering information to make an informed decision.

Some people prefer to meet with an attorney to evaluate the strength of their claims.  It is always helpful if you bring an outline of what happened on the job that you are complaining about, organized by date and with an explanation of who the various players are (and how to get in touch with them).  Try to have on hand copies of your employee handbooks or personnel manuals, any contracts, job evaluations, memos, discharge letters and the like.  If you are concerned about a housing matter, bring a copy of your lease, along with any notices and letters you have received from your landlord.

30Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-82.
31Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-82(e).
32Conn. Gen. Stat. 46a-60. 
33 Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-64c.
34Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-64.
35Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-81e(e).
36Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-86 (a - c).
37See Bridgeport Hospital v. CHRO, 232 Conn. 91 (1995); Delvecchio v. Griggs & Browne Co., Inc., 2000 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1149 (April 17, 2000)("The CHRO is without authority to award a prevailing party attorneys' fees, punitive or compensatory damages or damages for emotional distress").
38Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-86 (a, c).
39 Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-81e(f).
40Conn. Gen. Stat.  sec. 46a-86 (a); sec. 46a-64 (c).
41Conn. Gen. Stat.  sec. 46a-86 (a); sec. 46a-98 (outlining additional damages available for cases filed in Superior Court within one year of discriminatory act).
42Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-101 to 46a-102.
43Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-60.
44Compare Provencher v. CVS Pharmacy, 76 F.E.P. Cases (BNA) 1569 (1st Cir. 1998)(upholding federal retaliation claim of gay man).


Marriage

Can same-sex couples marry in Connecticut?

Yes.  As of October 28, 2008.  Connecticut also has no residency law for same sex couples to marry.

 

Same-sex marriage is legally recognized in several jurisdictions within the United States. As of January 2013, nine states—Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington—as well as the District of Columbia and two Native American tribes—have legalized same-sex marriage.  In addition, Rhode Island recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions and California, which briefly granted same-sex marriages in 2008, now recognizes them on a conditional basis.

 

As of April 2009 couples can also marry in Iowa and Vermont; as of January 1, 2010 couples can marry in Washington DC and as of June 1, 2011 couples can marry in New York.


45California provides a registered domestic partnership system which is nearly as comprehensive and New Jersey and Maine provide more limited protections.



Domestic Partnership 

What is domestic partnership?

Although it is a term used in many contexts, it most often means a status which recognizes an unmarried couple and their children as a family for certain limited purposes.  In the workplace context, domestic partnership plans allow an employee to obtain certain fringe benefits for his or her partner which were previously limited to married spouses.  Some states, cities and towns have also enacted domestic partner laws.  In other contexts, "domestic partner" is also a shorthand term for family, replacing "lover," "friend," and "roommate."  Some people call cohabitation agreements "domestic partner agreements."  See GLAD publications on Domestic Partnership Benefits for further information.

Does Connecticut provide same-sex domestic partner benefits to state employees?

Yes, as a result of an arbitration case decided recently, state employees (including retirees) with same-sex domestic partners and their dependent children are now eligible for health care and pension benefits under the State Health Benefit Plan and the State Employees Retirement System.70 

The process for obtaining coverage is simple.  Contact the Comptroller's office at (860) 702-3301.  You will need to fill out a domestic partnership affidavit and health insurance change forms.

Can cities and towns in Connecticut provide domestic partner health insurance benefits to their own employees?

Hartford has a domestic partnership ordinance providing a means for couples to register as domestic partners.71 

What kinds of domestic partner benefits may private employers provide?

Private employers may provide to domestic partners any benefits they wish -- whether health insurance, family medical or bereavement leave, equal pension benefits, relocation expenses, access to company facilities or any other benefit.

Even when employers provide these benefits, though, sometimes federal laws require different tax or other treatment of the benefits for domestic partners as compared to spouses.  For example, an employee must pay income tax on the value of his or her partner's health insurance benefits, but a spouse does not.72    For pensions, a domestic partner has no right to sign off if his or her partner decides to name someone else as the beneficiary of a pension although a spouse would have that right.

Can I use the state non-discrimination law to force my employer to provide domestic partnership benefits?

That is an open question.  On the one hand, the non-discrimination law says that an employer can't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in terms of compensation, and employee benefits are a form of compensation.  But on the other hand,  lawsuits in other states have largely failed with these types of claims on the grounds that all unmarried people -- gay and non-gay alike -- are barred from benefits, so there is no sexual orientation discrimination.  What is clear is that a private employer may provide domestic partner benefits; the only question is whether the employer could be forced to do so through the non-discrimination law.

70See  Connecticut v. SEBAC, slip. op., Interest Arbitration, Jan. 31,  2000.
71Hartford, CT Municipal Code, Chap. 2, Art. III, sec. 2-63 (2000).
72See Internal Revenue Code, Private Letter Ruling 9603011 (Jan. 19, 1996).


Adoption 

Can a single gay individual adopt a child in Connecticut?

Yes.

Can same-sex partners together adopt a child in Connecticut?

Only if they have a civil union or marriage.  A couple with a civil union/marriage will be treated under state adoption law as a married couple and must adopt a child as a couple. A couple who does not have a Connecticut civil union can both become legal parents of a child through a process whereby one adopts, and then the second parent adopts. A law which became effective October 1, 2000 creates a process for "second parent adoption" whereby an existing parent (biological or adoptive) may agree to the adoption of the child by another person "who shares parental responsibility for the child."73

What is the advantage of doing a second parent adoption?

A joint adoption means that the child now has two legal parents for all purposes.  The law will finally reflect the actual family situation, which often gives great comfort and security to everyone involved.

Without an adoption, the non-legal parent needs special permission to seek medical care for the child, or to attend school meetings.  With an adoption, the person is a parent entitled to make decisions for the child in day-to-day and emergency matters.

With an adoption, if one parent dies, the other parent will automatically assume custody of the child without a fight from others.  In addition, the child would have the automatic right to inherit from the deceased parent, even if there is no will, and possibly to collect social security survivor benefits.  Finally, if the couple separates, then the adoption means that both parents have the right to custody and visitation, and any disputes will be decided based on what is in the best interests of the child rather than on who is the legal parent.

If same-sex parents raise a child together, but only one is the "legal" parent (because of birth or adoption), then what rights does the other parent have vis-à-vis the child?

As a general matter, the rights of the other parent (non-birth parent or non-adoptive parent) are limited in these circumstances. Whether the couple obtained a civil union may alter the situation. If there is no civil union, the law permits persons to petition the Superior Court for visitation but not custody.74 The threshold requirement for a visitation petition is a disruption in a child’s family life.75 As to what “family life” means under the law, see Michaud v. Wawruck76.

Several courts have allowed lesbian co-parents the right to visit with their children following a separation.77 Persons awarded visitation have no obligation to support the child, but a legal parent may accept support which is paid.

Regardless of the status of a person’s legal rights, it is critical to remember that children form strong attachments to their parental caregivers regardless of legal labels. Separating a child from a person who has acted as their parent can be a devastating loss for a child. Moreover, court proceedings to establish visitation will be painful and costly, so anything people can do outside of court to make decisions together about a child’s interests is strongly encouraged. See GLAD's publication: "Protecting Families:  Standards for Child Custody in Same-Sex Relationships."

Short of joint adoption or second parent adoption, how can a family protect the interests of the child vis-à-vis his or her second parent?

There are a number of steps which can be taken, although none offer the security of a second parent adoption.  Among these are:

Co-parenting Agreement: An agreement setting out the parents' expectations about each other's roles, and their plans in the event of separation, disability or death.  While these agreements may not be given effect, they are important indicators of what the couple believed was in the best interests of the child, and thus may be influential (although not binding) on a court.

Wills: The legal parent may nominate a guardian of the child upon the parent's death.  These wishes are given strong preferences by courts.  Of course, if the child has another legal parent living, then that person would likely have priority over the nominated guardian.

Power of Attorney: This document is signed by the parent and authorizes another person (the "attorney-in-fact") to make medical or financial decisions for the child.  (See discussion above).

73Public Act 00-228, amending C.G.S.A. § 45a-724.
74Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-59
75 Castagno v. Wholean, 239 Conn. 336 (1996)
76209 Conn. 404 (1988)(“traditional models of the nuclear family have come. . . to be replaced by various configurations. . . and we should not assume that the welfare of children is best served by a narrow definition of those who we permit to continue to manifest their deep concern for the child’s growth and development”)
77See e.g. Antonucci v. Cameron, 25 Conn. L. Rptr. 509 (Conn. Super. Ct. Dept., Sept. 24, 1999)(allowing visitation to lesbian co-parent where visitation is in the best interests of the child); Laspina-Williams v. Laspina-Williams, 46 Conn. Supp. 165, 742 A.2d 840 (1999)(denying motion to dismiss of biological mother in co-parent visitation case).


Child Custody and Visitation


 

If I have a child from a former heterosexual relationship, and I am now involved with a same-sex partner, can my "ex" use this against me to deny me custody or visitation of my kids?

This question has never been answered squarely by the Connecticut Supreme Court.  As a practical matter, a parent's sexual orientation by itself should not be grounds for denying custody or visitation.  A 1988 case decided by a lower court involved a lesbian mother who lost custody of her children to their father, and who was ordered not to have her partner present when the children visited.  But the mother did not appeal those rulings and the only matter to reach the Supreme Court was the issue of the financial obligations imposed on her.78 

It is extremely important that you be honest with your lawyer about your personal circumstances.  The information is likely to come to light in any event since a family services officer will be appointed and speak to you, your spouse, your child, and possibly neighbors and people at your child's school.  If you don't trust your lawyer with this information, get a new lawyer.

What are the factors for making custody determinations generally?

Upon divorce, the parties may make an agreement about custody and visitation.  If they can't reach an agreement, a Superior Court judge will make custody and visitation orders based on the "best interests of the child" standard.79  As a general matter, the best interests of the child "include the child's interests in sustained growth, development, well-being, and continuity and stability of its environment."80 

In all contested cases, the judge will appoint a family relations officer to investigate in order to help the judge arrive at a decision.  The investigation can touch on matters of "parentage and surroundings of any child, his age, habits and history, inquiry into the home conditions, habits and characters of his parents or guardians and evaluation of his mental or physical condition."81 

Are there different kinds of custody?

Yes.  "Joint custody" means an order of legal custody of the child to both parents, which allows them joint decision-making for the child and providing that the child shall have continuing contact with both parents.82   Sole custody means that only one of the parents has those rights.

How is "sexual orientation" used in custody proceedings?

In a divorce or paternity proceeding, a parent may argue that the other parent's sexual orientation is causing detriment to the child.  Any number of reasons can be cited, such as that the gay or lesbian parent's sexual orientation is causing other people to tease or ostracize the child, or that the parent is a bad role model.   Or, a parent may argue that the ex's new partner is not good for the child.  In the overwhelming majority of circumstances, these matters can be answered to the satisfaction of a judge in a way, which does not penalize the gay parent or the child.  Call GLAD for further resources.

Does it matter if my "ex" knew I was gay or lesbian or might be before we separated?

Whether or not you come out during the divorce process is a personal decision, but there is little to no benefit in keeping it a secret.   If a spouse did not know of your sexual orientation at the time of the court proceedings but learns it later, he or she may argue that this is a change of circumstances which affects the child's best interests and that the custody issues should be litigated anew.   People can seek to modify court orders for custody when there has been a change in circumstances which alters the child's best interests. Of course, if your spouse or former heterosexual partner knew of your sexual orientation at the time of the court proceedings establishing custody, a modification petition claiming a "change" would be pointless.83 

Can a court keep my kids from visiting when my partner is present?

Courts have the power to do this, but should not do so unless it is clearly in the best interests of the child.  Connecticut courts have rejected the notion that any particular lifestyle of itself will harm a child and insist instead on proof.

78Charpentier v. Charpentier, 206 Conn. 150, 536 A.2d 948 (1988).
79Conn. Gen. Sta. 46b-56(b)(1). 
80Cappetta v. Cappetta, 196 Conn. 10, 16, 490 A.2d 996 (1985).
81 Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46b-6.
82Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46b-56a.
83See generally, Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46b-56.


Domestic Violence 

What is domestic violence?

Under the law, "family violence" means that "an incident resulting in physical harm, bodily injury or assault, or an act of threatened violence that constitutes fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault..."84  Verbal threats by themselves do not trigger the law's protections unless there is "a present danger and the likelihood that physical violence will occur."

Do the domestic violence laws apply to people in same-sex relationships?

Not explicitly, but some same-sex relationships are covered.   "Family violence" between family or household members includes, among other things, relationships in which people are or were residing in the same household, people who have a child in common, and people who are in or have recently been in a dating relationship.85 

How do I get a court order protecting me from an abusive partner?

You can get a court order from the Family Court which will prohibit the abuser from coming near you, or your home, or harassing you any further.  It will only be issued if the court finds you have been subjected to "a continuous threat of present physical pain and injury."86  Orders may be granted on an emergency basis.

The process is intended to be simple.  You may go to court nearest where you live, or if you have just fled your home, in the town where you used to live.  You will need to fill out an application alleging "abuse" as defined above with an affidavit providing the details.  The affidavit is signed under oath, so everything you say must be true.  Try to put in as much detail as possible demonstrating why you feel threatened.

The defendant/abuser must be served with (given a copy of) the court order and notified of his or her right to contest the order in court.  At that time, both parties often have attorneys.  You should bring with you any witnesses who can substantiate the abuse, as well as copies of threatening letters, medical records, or any other documents which can show how you have been harmed and why you are afraid.  Expect to be asked questions by the judge and the attorney for the abuser/defendant.  You have the same right to ask questions.

Once the order is issued, it is effective state-wide.  Violation of a court order of which an abuser has notice is a criminal offense.87     After hearing, the court may grant orders of protection up to 6 months in duration, and those orders may later be extended for up to another 6 months at a time.88 

If for some reason you decide not to go through with the legal process, you should show up in court anyway and ask that the order be dismissed.  If you don't show up, it is possible the court will think of you as unreliable if you need legal help in the future.

There is another type of order available as well called a "protective" order.  It is issued automatically when an assailant is arrested and requires no contact occur between the assailant and victim.

There are other laws which prohibit stalking, harassing and trespassing which may apply to you, but are beyond the scope of this document.

Where can I go to get help?

In addition to the local police, district attorney, and Superior Court you can call:
 

Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence
100 Pitkin St
E. Hartford, CT  06108 
(860) 282-7899

Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services
110 Connecticut Blvd. 
E. Hartford, CT  06108 
(860) 282-9881

Does domestic violence play a role in custody decisions?

It may, but there is no law saying that it should.  It is a factor which affects the best interests of the child analysis.

84Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-38a(1).
85Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-38a(2).
86Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46b-15. 
87See generally, Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46b-15 (c).
88Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46b-15(d).


Hate Crimes & Violence

Does Connecticut have a hate crimes law?

Yes, Connecticut has two different types of hate crimes laws. In order to track hate crimes, the State maintains a reporting system so that incidents alleged are centrally recorded.89   The State has also set out a sliding scale of penalties for hate crimes based on actual or perceived race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation depending on their severity.  See "An Act Concerning Intimidation Based on Bigotry or Bias"90

How does the law define what is a hate crime?

Before the law of "intimidation based on bigotry or bias" can be applied to any crime, it must be shown that the attacker acted (1) maliciously and (2) with specific intent (i.e., the attacker specifically chose to attack the person because of their personal characteristics of sexual orientation, etc.).

If those prerequisites are shown, the crime takes several forms.

1. Intimidation based on bigotry or bias is a Class C Felony when, in addition to the prerequisites above, the attacker "causes serious physical injury" to a person.

2. Intimidation based on bigotry or bias is a Class D Felony (less serious than  Class C felony) when, in addition to the prerequisites above, the attacker (a)  causes physical contact with another person, or (b) damages, destroys or defaces a person's real or personal property, or (c)  threatens to do either (a) or (b) as long as there is also reasonable cause to believe those threatened acts will occur.

When no maliciousness can be shown, a person may nonetheless be liable as follows.

3. Intimidation based on bigotry or bias is a Class A misdemeanor (less serious than Class D felony) when, with specific intent (there is no maliciousness requirement here), the attacker intimidates or harasses a person or group of persons by (a) damaging, destroying or defacing any real or personal property, or (b) threatens to do so as long as there is also reasonable cause to believe those threatened acts will occur.

Note that actions toward a group -- even if not a specific person -- can trigger the misdemeanor statute.

Another provision of law allows enhanced penalties against people who are "persistent offenders" of crimes involving bigotry and bias.91 

There are also specific laws concerning desecration of religious sites and cross burning which are beyond the scope of this document.92 

How do I know if an attack was a hate crime?

Trust your gut and report to the police all the details of any possible hate crime.  If you leave out the details about bias, the police will have no way of knowing that the crime may be a hate crime.  Law enforcement officials tend to use the following as guideposts for determining whether or not a crime is a hate crime.

  • Did the attacker use anti-gay language or epithets?
  • Was the victim in an area associated with gay people (e.g. outside a gay bar or a cruising area)?
  • Have there been similar crimes in the area?
  • Did the attack occur regardless of economic motive (i.e., person attacked but not robbed)?

Where can I call if I think I've been a victim of a hate crime?

For help and referrals, call the CWEALF Hate Crimes Project which both records hate incidents and advocates for victims as well.  They can be contacted at (860) 247-6090.

Note that in a typical hate crimes case, the hate crimes violation may be charged along with another criminal statute (such as assault and battery, or assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, or assault with intent to murder and maim), which may be easier to prove.

What other options do I have if I think I have been the victim of a hate crime?

In addition to pursuing your rights in the criminal justice system, or instead of going that route, you can pursue a civil action against your attacker if you have been injured or if your property has been damaged.93  That action must be filed within ONE YEAR of the date of the acts your complaining of.  If you prevail in court, you can collect damages, and the judge may also decide to aware triple damages, equitable relief (such as an injunction ordering the attacker to stay away from you) and attorney's fees.

89See Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 29-7m. 
90(Public Act 00-72).
91Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 53a-40a.
92See e.g. Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46a-58.
93Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 52-571c.
 


Harassment and Discrimination as School

Are there any laws protecting gay students in Connecticut?

Yes.  Conn. Gen. Stat. 10-15c was amended in 1997 to add "sexual orientation" to the list of characteristics upon which discrimination is forbidden in public schools.

It provides that:

"The public schools shall be open to all children five years of age and over... and each such child shall have, and shall be so advised by the appropriate school authorities, an equal opportunity to participate in the activities, programs and courses of study offered in such public schools, . . . without discrimination on account of race, color, sex, religion, national origin or sexual orientation . . . ".

What kinds of conduct does the law cover?

Technically, the law addresses equal opportunity with respect to activities, programs and courses of study.   While a school would not likely say, "Don't come here," or "You can't take track," their actions may imply as much.  For example, if a school fails to redress pervasive harassment against you at the school generally or in a particular class or activity, this may violate the letter of the non-discrimination law.  At this time, the student rights law does not itself contain a mechanism for lawsuit based on violations of the law, but it may nonetheless prove to be the source of a private right of action.  In any event, the law is a powerful tool in advocating for change in a school to institute training programs and to deal with problems when they arise.

Are there other laws, which may protect me from discrimination and harassment because of my sexual orientation?

Possibly.  Under federal law, public schools, which receive federal funds, may not discriminate on the basis of sex.  Sometimes, the harassment of a gay student will be sexual harassment forbidden by this federal law, known as Title IX.  Complaints can be made to your school Title IX coordinator, as well as to the federal Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights in Boston.  You may also consult with an attorney and go directly to Court.

What can I do if I'm being discriminated against at school?

There are many ways to approach the issue.  One is to ask for support from a friend, teacher or counselor and talk to the people who are bothering you.  That is not an option, however, if you don't feel safe doing so.

Take a look at your school policies and notify whoever is supposed to be notified -- usually a vice principal or Title IX coordinator.  You may wish to document any incidents of harassment or discrimination in writing.  Once you meet with the right officials, make a note of what you told them and on what date and ask when they will be getting back to you with a response.  If they don't help you or don't follow through, you may wish to write to the superintendent and school board and ask them to end the discrimination.

At the same time, or after contacting the administration as set out above, you may want to send a copy of your complaint to the State Dept. of Education.   While they do not have an explicit policy on complaints and they have no obligations under the non-discrimination law, you could request that they intervene on your behalf.  Contact Office of Public Information, CT State Department of Education, 165 Capitol Ave., Hartford, CT  06145.  Their phone number is (860) 566-5677.

If this fails, you may also wish to consider legal action against the city or town.   Contact GLAD for attorney referrals http://www.glad.org/infoline/


Gay/Straight Alliances 

Do students have the right to form Gay Straight Alliances in their schools even if the principal or community opposes it?

Students have several legal tools available if they wish to form a GSA or club.  A federal law known as the Equal Access Act provides that secondary school students in schools that receive federal funding and have extra-curricular groups must allow students to form other extra-curricular groups without discriminating based on the religious, philosophical, political or other content of the speech at meetings.  According to the law, school administrators must respond consistently to all requests for the formation and funding of extra-curricular clubs, even if they don't agree personally with the content or think the community isn't ready for it.  GLAD brought and won a case for students at West High in Manchester, New Hampshire on this very basis.  In addition, in some cases, First Amendment principles may be brought to bear on behalf of students wishing to form a club.




Content Last Modified on 3/13/2013 3:23:17 PM