Retail industry members in Connecticut are most likely familiar with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities ("CHRO"), the administrative agency responsible for enforcing the state's human rights laws that ban illegal discrimination in employment and public accommodation. What you might not know is that last month, Governor Dannel Malloy, in an effort to streamline the Commission's review of complaints, signed Public Law Act No. 11-237, An Act Concerning the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. This new law significantly revised the timeline and review process for the investigation of employee and public accommodation complaints. All retail industry members should take notice and anticipate that complaints will proceed at a faster pace once these changes become effective on October 1, 2011. We have summarized the most important revisions for you below:

Complainants Can Request that the CHRO Release its Jurisdiction Within 15 Days After Dismissal at the Merit Assessment Review Stage

Although the Act does not change the requirement of the CHRO to conduct a merit assessment review ("MAR") within ninety (90) days of the filing of the respondent's answer to the complaint, it clarifies that following a MAR dismissal, a complainant must only wait fifteen (15) days before requesting a release of jurisdiction.

MAR Dismissals Will Now Be Reviewed

If a complainant does not request a release of jurisdiction following a dismissal at the MAR stage, the CHRO will now automatically conduct a legal review of the complaint within sixty (60) days of the notice of dismissal. The CHRO will then decide whether to reinstate the complaint or not.

Mandatory Mediation Conferences Will Take Place Within 60 Days After the MAR

All complaints which are not dismissed after the MAR will proceed to a mandatory mediation conference that will take place within sixty (60) days. Failure of the complainant to attend the mandatory mediation conference may lead to a dismissal. Additionally, the CHRO may or may not schedule a fact-finding conference to held at the same time as the mediation conference. If the mandatory mediation conference does not resolve the dispute, then the executive director must assign an investigator to process the complaint within fifteen (15) days after the mediation conference.

Respondent's Pro-Active Changes Can Help Effectuate a Complaint Dismissal

For the first time, the CHRO may dismiss a complaint if the respondent has eliminated the discriminatory practice complained of, taken steps to prevent a like occurrence in the future and offered full relief to the complainant, even though the complainant has refused such relief. Since we have not been successful with this tactic in the past, we are hoping that the new Act symbolizes a change in the CHRO's approach toward employers who take such prompt remedial measures.

Request for Early Legal Intervention

If the complaint is not resolved following the mandatory mediation conference, the complainant, respondent, or the CHRO may request early legal intervention. If a request is made, the executive director has within ninety (90) days to determine whether the complaint is heard, processed or released from jurisdiction, and may hold additional proceedings in order to make the determination. The executive director or designee may also recommend that the investigator make a finding of "no reasonable cause." If the executive director makes such a recommendation, the investigator shall issue a "no reasonable cause" finding unless the investigator believes the executive director or designee made a mistake of fact.

Complainants May Now Request a Release of Jurisdiction After Only 180 Days

The Act also changes the time period that a complainant must wait to request a release of jurisdiction from the CHRO from 210 days to 180 days after complainant files the complaint. This change gives complainants who wish to proceed in court an avenue to start the process sooner.

CHRO May Now Start Corresponding Via Email

The Act allows the Commission to now send notices and correspondence to the complainant and respondent via e-mail or fax. This apparently codifies a practice which has recently been prevalent among investigators.