In a unanimous decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that employers can be held liable for failing to protect their employees from harassment based on sexual orientation.
The case involved an employee who claimed his former employer engaged in a discriminatory employment practice under the state's antidiscrimination law when the company permitted co-workers to harass him and create a hostile work environment based on his sexual orientation. Following a trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the ex-employee and awarded him $94,500.
The company appealed, saying the state antidiscrimination law does not explicitly provide for hostile workplace claims with respect to sexual orientation. But the court disagreed with that argument. The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the "terms, conditions or privileges of employment," said the court, a well-settled term of art in antidiscrimination law broad enough to authorize harassment and hostile workplace claims.
Connecticut is one of 20 states, along with the District of Columbia, whose laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Experts say the decision is the first supreme court decision from any state to specifically hold that harassment based on sexual orientation is an actionable claim to the same extent as harassment based on sex or race.