Emotional Distress Damages

June, 2022


A recent Connecticut Supreme Court case reiterated that emotional distress damages are recoverable in cases arising under Connecticut’s Fair Employment Practices Act.  Connecticut Judicial Branch v. Germaine Gilbert, 343 Conn. 90 (2022).

The case involved a judicial marshal employed by the Connecticut Judicial Branch who filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, (CHRO), alleging sexual harassment by another judicial marshal.  She alleged that the Judicial Branch failed to investigate her allegations and take remedial steps to protect her and retaliated against her by reassigning her to courthouses farther from her home.

In addition to attorney’s fees, the CHRO human rights referee awarded her $50,000 in emotional distress damages, absent her submission into evidence her medical records.

By the time the case reached the CT Supreme Court, the Court made the following conclusion:

The CHRO was authorized to award emotional distress damages and attorney’s fees in an employment discrimination action under the general antidiscrimination statute, Section 46a-58(a) and the statutes’s civil remedies provision, Section 46a-86(c).

In an important footnote to the decision, the Court stated that emotional distress damages, or “garden-variety” emotional distress damages can be proven solely on the basis of the complainant’s own testimony and other lay testimony, such as that of a spouse or friends, without the need for expert medical evidence.  The Court stated the “[i]n Patino v. Birken Mfg. Co., 304 Conn. 679, A.3d1013 (2012), we recognized that such claims are cognizable under Connecticut law. See id. 707-708.”

The Court stated that there has been no precise definition of the phrase “garden-variety emotional distress” in this case but it appeared the term to have a commonly understood meaning to include:

  1. Emotional distress that is testified only by the complainant and other lay witnesses;
  • Involves the sorts of everyday emotional and physical reactions to trauma that a jury  reasonably could be expected to assess without the assistance of expert testimony;
  • Does not involve a claim by the complainant that the emotional distress required professional medical/psychological diagnosis, treatment or medication.

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