MICHAEL TOMICK v. UNITED PARCEL SERVICE, INC., et al., SC 19505

Judicial District of New London

 

      Employment Discrimination; Whether General Statutes § 46a-104 Authorizes an Award of Punitive Damages in an Employment Discrimination Action and, if so, Whether the Punitive Damages must be Awarded by the Jury.  The plaintiff brought this employment discrimination action, claiming that the defendant terminated his employment because of his physical disability in violation of General Statutes § 46a-60 (a) (1).  The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff that included an award of $500,000 in punitive damages.  The trial court set aside the punitive damages award on the ground that it was not authorized under General Statutes § 46a-104, which provides that in a discrimination action, the court may grant “such legal and equitable relief which it deems appropriate including, but not limited to, temporary or permanent injunctive relief, attorney’s fees and court costs.”  The plaintiff appealed, claiming that the court improperly concluded that § 46a-104 did not permit the award of punitive damages.  He argued that by using the phrase “including, but not limited to,” to modify the phrase “legal and equitable relief,” the legislature clearly intended to authorize all forms of legal and equitable relief, including punitive damages.  The Appellate Court (157 Conn. App. 312) disagreed and affirmed the trial court’s judgment.  It noted that, in Connecticut, common-law punitive damages are restricted to the expenses of bringing the legal action, including attorney’s fees, and that the plaintiff’s interpretation of § 46a-104 would allow him to double his recovery of litigation expenses because the statute expressly authorizes an award of attorney’s fees and costs.  Such a result, the Appellate Court opined, would undermine the settled common-law rule limiting punitive damages to a single recovery of litigation expenses.  It also emphasized that there are statutory provisions that expressly provide for punitive damages in cases involving other forms of discriminatory conduct and that such express statutory punitive damages provisions demonstrate that the legislature well knows how to authorize an award of punitive damages when it wishes to do so.  It therefore concluded that because the language of § 46a-104 does not expressly provide for punitive damages, the plaintiff was not entitled to such relief.  In light of that conclusion, the Appellate Court deemed it unnecessary to address the plaintiff’s claim that punitive damages under § 46a-104 must be awarded by the jury and not by the court.  The plaintiff appeals, and the Supreme Court will decide whether § 46a-104 authorizes an award of punitive damages and, if so, whether the punitive damages must be awarded by the jury.