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L&E Law Alert: Connecticut Supreme Court Rules Punitive Damages Not Available Under State Anti-Discrimination Statute

January 6, 2017

In Tomick v. United Parcel Service, Inc. et. al., the Connecticut Supreme Court held that the statute allowing for damages for discriminatory practices under the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act ("CFEPA") does not allow for an award of punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded for the purpose of punishing the defendant.

In Tomick, the plaintiff worked for the United Parcel Service ("UPS") as a package driver. UPS terminated the plaintiff for workplace violence. The plaintiff filed a seven count complaint against UPS alleging that he was terminated for disability discrimination in violation of CFEPA. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff which included a $500,000 award for punitive damages. The trial court set aside the punitive damages award on the ground that punitive damages are not available under CFEPA. The Appellate Court affirmed this decision, and the plaintiff appealed to the Supreme Court. 

In a 4-2 decision, the Supreme Court agreed with the Appellate Court's conclusion that punitive damages are not available under CFEPA. The court examined the statute in light of similar Connecticut human rights statutes, Connecticut case law and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"). The Court recognized that, unlike other Connecticut human rights statutes and Title VII, CFEPA does not expressly provide for punitive damages. Additionally, the Supreme Court noted that an award of punitive damages is an "extraordinary remedy" available only when the legislature expressly provides for such damages. The Court concluded that the General Assembly knows how to draft a statute to authorize punitive damages when it wants and it did not do so here. The dissent took a more expansive view of the statute and argued that an absence of express punitive damages language does not necessarily exclude punitive damages. It is important to note that the General Assembly could amend CFEPA to include punitive damages at any time. We will update you if there are any changes to the statute.

A copy of the majority decision can be found here.

Please contact any member of our Labor & Employment group if you would like additional information.