Thursday, January 26, 2012

CT Supreme Court To Hear Company Appeal Tuesday On Gay Employee Harassment

Enfield Machinist Was Subjected
To Anti-Gay Slurs At Bloomfield Factory

Hartford Atty.
Jon Schoenhorn
Had Won Jury Verdict

The Connecticut Supreme Court will be asked on Tuesday to decide a case of first impression whether state employers have a duty to protect gay, lesbian and bisexual employees from derogatory anti-gay remarks and jokes in the workplace. The case of Luis Patino v. Birken Manufacturing Co. of Bloomfield will be heard at 10 a.m. Tuesday, January 31st before the Supreme Court in Hartford, and will have a major impact on the extent of protection owed to workers due to their sexual orientation.

Patino, of Enfield, was a machinist for 27 years at Birken, a large Bloomfield manufacturing company that fabricates parts for Pratt & Whitney jet engines. Over the years, he filed several complaints with the company and with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) about anti-gay slurs directed against him by co-workers, and alleged his complaints were ignored. Finally he filed a lawsuit claiming that the harassment created a "hostile work environment" and a Hartford jury in 2009 awarded him $94,500.00 in damages. Judge Eliot Prescott later awarded another $42,000 in legal fees to his attorney, Jon L. Schoenhorn of Hartford, who is also defending the Supreme Court appeal.

Birken appealed the jury verdict in 2009 claiming that only workers who claim gender or sex discrimination can sue for workplace harassment by co-workers. The company's claim was rejected by the trial judge. Patino, through Attorney Schoenhorn, will argue on Tuesday in response that employers have a duty to protect gay workers from ridicule, anti-gay slurs and harassment ever since Connecticut passed its Gay Rights Law in 1991. In the meantime, the Connecticut high court has extended the rights of gay persons to marry, demonstrating that no forms of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation will be tolerated.

A dozen state and national civil rights organizations and agencies have filed friend-of-the-court briefs (amicus briefs) with the Supreme Court in support of Mr. Patino, including the CHRO, Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, and the Connecticut Employment Lawyers Association.

The Supreme Court Docket Number is S.C. 18441

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