MIRIELLE DESROSIERS v. DIAGEO NORTH AMERICA, I NC., et al., SC 19039
Judicial District of Fairfield
Employment; Discrimination; Whether Connecticut Recognizes a Cause of Action for Discrimination Based on a Perceived Physical Disability. The plaintiff brought this wrongful termination action against her former employer. She claimed, among other things, that she was discriminated against based on her physical disability and/or what her employer perceived to be her physical disability. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants insofar as the plaintiff alleged a perceived disability claim, finding that Connecticut does not recognize a cause of action for discrimination based on a perceived physical disability. A jury trial was held on the remainder of the discrimination count, resulting in a verdict for the defendants. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that a claim for discrimination based on a perceived physical disability exists under General Statutes § 46a-60 (a), which provides that it shall be a discriminatory practice for an employer to fire or to discriminate against an individual because of the individual’s physical disability. In affirming the trial court's judgment, the Appellate Court (137 Conn. App. 446) found that in determining whether § 46a-60 provides a cause of action for discrimination based on a perceived physical disability, it was necessary to look to the definitions of relevant terms found in General Statutes § 46a-51. Section 46a-51 (15) defines as "physically disabled" an individual who has any chronic physical handicap, infirmity or impairment and is silent as to whether it covers those who are “regarded as” disabled by their employer. The court noted that the legislature’s use of the word “has” in § 46a-51 (15) evinced its intent to protect those who actually suffer from some handicap or infirmity, and not those who may incorrectly be regarded as being disabled. Finally, the court noted that § 46a-51 (20) defines “mental disability” to refer to one who is “regarded as” having a mental disorder. The Appellate Court found that a conclusion that the language used in § 46a-51 (15) allows for an interpretation that § 46a-60 protects those who are regarded as physically disabled by their employers would wrongly render the "regarded as" language in § 46a-51 (20) superfluous. It therefore concluded that the statutory scheme protects only those who actually suffer from some type of physical disability. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that Connecticut does not recognize a cause of action for discrimination based on a perceived physical disability.