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Quick Hits

  • The Connecticut Appellate Court held that the plain meaning of the CFEPA does not include associational disability discrimination claims.
  • The court distinguished the CFEPA from the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which recognizes claims of associational disability discrimination.

On June 18, 2024, the Connecticut Appellate Court in Demarco v. Charter Oak Temple Restoration Association, Inc. upheld a trial court’s ruling that the CFEPA’s “clear and unambiguous” language does not recognize claims for associational discrimination.


The ruling involved a former employee who was discharged after returning to work from a leave of absence following the birth of his son, who suffered from serious medical conditions that rendered the newborn physically disabled within the meaning of the CFEPA. The former employee filed a lawsuit alleging that his discharge was “because of his association with a disabled individual” (here, his son) and that the discharge was in violation of the CFEPA.

Connecticut General Statutes § 46a-60(b)(1), a provision of the CFEPA, prohibits an employer from discharging an individual “because of the individual’s race, color, religious creed, age, sex, gender identity or expression, marital status, national origin, ancestry, present or past history of mental disability, intellectual disability, learning disability, or physical disability, including, but not limited to, blindness, status as a veteran or status as a victim of domestic violence.” (Emphasis added.)

No Associational Discrimination

A three-judge panel of the Connecticut Appellate Court found that though § 46a-60(b)(1) protects disabled employees from being discharged because of their disabilities, “§ 46a-60(b)(1), by its plain and unambiguous terms, does not prohibit disability discrimination by association.” Specifically, the court stated that the “use of the term ‘individual’s’ as a possessive noun attached to ‘physical disability’ plainly establishes that the ‘physical disability’ is that of the employee.”

The court noted that the legislature’s inclusion of associational discrimination in the context of a separate law prohibiting discrimination in housing, further “supports the conclusion that, if the legislature had intended to include disability discrimination by association within the purview of CFEPA, it would have conveyed that intent expressly.”

The court also distinguished the CFEPA from the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which expressly prohibits employers from “excluding or otherwise denying equal jobs or benefits to a qualified individual because of the known disability of an individual with whom the qualified individual is known to have a relationship or association.”

Additionally, the court found it significant that the Connecticut General Assembly had not adopted associational discrimination language similar to that included in the ADA, even though it had amended the CFEPA multiple times since the ADA’s passage in 1990. “This strongly suggests that our legislature intended to maintain this distinction between CFEPA and the ADA and that its decision not to include associational discrimination within the scope of CFEPA was purposeful,” the court stated.

Notably, the court considered, but was not persuaded, by the discharged employee’s argument that the CFEPA should be construed broadly, given its “remedial purpose.” While the court acknowledged the CFEPA “generally reflects [Connecticut’s] laudable public policy to eliminate employment related discrimination,” it found that this goal does not mean courts can ignore “the legislature’s clearly expressed intent.”

“Although CFEPA is remedial in nature, and therefore, must be interpreted, whenever reasonably possible, to effectuate the beneficent purpose of eliminating employment related discrimination, that principle of statutory construction does not authorize this court to ignore the plain language of § 46a-60(b)(1) and the limits that the language places on achieving this purpose,” the court stated.

Key Takeaways

The Connecticut Appellate Court ruling clarifies that the CFEPA does not create a claim for associational discrimination, particularly in the context of alleged discrimination based on disability. The decision was based on the court’s analysis of the plain meaning of the CFEPA, and notably, the court’s refusal to construe the law broadly despite its overall remedial purpose. The ruling further highlights the “long-standing distinction” between the CFEPA and the federal ADA, which does allow for claims of associational discrimination based on the disability of another close individual.

Ogletree Deakins’ Stamford office will continue to monitor developments and will provide updates on the Connecticut and Leaves of Absence blogs.

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