The mission of the Connecticut Judicial Branch is to serve the interests of justice and the public by resolving matters brought before it in a fair, timely, efficient and open manner.

Administrative Appeal Supreme Court Opinion

by Booth, George


SC20655 - Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities v. Cantillon ("Cantillon failed to appear for the administrative hearing on the complainant's claims. Consequently, he was defaulted. Then, after a hearing in damages, the presiding human rights referee found that the complainant had suffered emotional distress and awarded her $15,000 in damages, in addition to costs and postjudgment interest.

The commission itself, viewing the award as too low in light of the pervasive scope and nature of Cantillon's discriminatory conduct, appealed to the Superior Court, challenging the amount of the award. Specifically, the commission argued that (1) under Patino v. Birken Mfg. Co., 304 Conn. 679, 708, 41 A.3d 1013 (2012), an award for garden-variety emotional distress damages presumptively must be at least $30,000, and (2) the referee made various errors of law in assessing the heinousness of Cantillon's conduct pursuant to the test espoused in Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities ex rel. Harrison v. Greco, Docket No. 7930433 (C.H.R.O. June 3, 1985) (Harrison). Neither the complainant nor Cantillon participated in the appeal, however, and, for arcane reasons that are set forth in the decision of the Appellate Court; see Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities v. Cantillon, 207 Conn. App. 668, 670 n.1, 263 A.3d 887 (2021); the commission operated as both the appellant and the appellee in its appeal before the Superior Court. In doing so, the commission, as plaintiff, and the commission, as defendant, both challenged the referee's award as insufficient.

Even though no party to the appeal defended the decision of the referee or argued in support of Cantillon's likely position that the award was not impermissibly low, the trial court, recognizing that it was bound by the highly deferential standard of review that governs administrative decisions; see General Statutes § 4-183 (j); concluded that there was no legal basis for it to second-guess the award and rendered judgment dismissing the appeal. For similar reasons, and with the parties similarly situated, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court. See Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities v. Cantillon, supra, 207 Conn. App. 670–71, 686. This certified appeal followed.

Like the courts below, we are compelled to affirm. If some minimum award for garden-variety emotional distress damages is to be established for such heinous conduct, then that minimum amount must be established by the legislature, either independently, via legislation, or in conjunction with the commission, through the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act's rule-making process; see General Statutes § 4-168 et seq.; and not on an ad hoc basis by this court.

We presume the reader's familiarity with the well reasoned opinion of the Appellate Court. That court did an admirable job of setting forth the relevant facts and procedural history, describing the controlling standard of review, summarizing the commission's arguments as to the alleged flaws in the decision of the referee, and explaining why those arguments ultimately were not persuasive. Specifically, the Appellate Court did not read Patino to adopt any presumptive floor for emotional distress damages; see Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities v. Cantillon, supra, 207 Conn. App. 673–79; and it concluded that the referee's heavily fact specific assessment of the complainant's emotional distress damages was not an abuse of discretion. See id., 679–86. We agree with that court's resolution of the commission's claims, and no useful purpose would be served by retracing those steps here. We take this opportunity, however, to clarify and elaborate on a few points raised by the commission.")

  • SC20655 Dissent - Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities v. Cantillon