HARTFORD, CT — Members of the Senate Democratic caucus said that in addition to reviewing their internal process for sexual harassment claims they’re hoping to raise legislation that would reform the complaint process for everyone in Connecticut, including the elimination of secret settlements.
It was described as “the largest overhaul of sexual harassment and sexual assault law in modern Connecticut history,” according to Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven.
Currently, victims of sexual harassment and employment discrimination are forced to file a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities within an unfair and unrealistic period of time, according to Looney. The current law says a complaint must be filed within six months of the harassment, or the victim will “forever lose their rights,” Looney said.
He said they want to extend the statute of limitations to two years after an incident is alleged instead of the current 180 days, and extend to two years the current 90-day deadline to file in court after the CHRO releases the jurisdiction over the complaint.
“It’s difficult for victims of sexual harassment or employment discrimination to come forward,” Looney said.
Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, said there are 12 states that have eliminated the sexual assault statute of limitations and there are 27 states that had, as of the end of 2017, longer statutes of limitations than Connecticut.
There haven’t been many changes to these laws over the past decade.
The legislation, which is expected to be introduced in the Judiciary Committee, would also require annual notification requirements for employers, including those with fewer than 50 employees, and it would also seek to put an end to secretive settlements by prohibiting it in contract language.
Exempting businesses with fewer than 50 employees “exempts most of the employers in the state” from injunctive relief with the CHRO, Looney said.
They are proposing allowing the CHRO the authority to protect employers with fewer than three employees.
The legislation also would seek to provide the CHRO with more enforcement tools and investigative capacity by allowing them to contract with attorneys outside the agency.
There are 66 employees at the agency and 32 of them are investigators. Of those 32, only 20 are available to investigate matters other than affirmative action compliance and fair housing.
Republicans were not invited to the Legislative Office Building press conference, and as such they concluded that it was more about grabbing headlines than actually changing policies.
“As with any important issue facing the state of Connecticut, passing major new policies are best done, and have been done, in a bipartisan effort,” Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said. “That is why seeing Senate Democrats today release this plan without any effort to work with the other caucuses tells me they are more focused on grabbing headlines than on actually making a difference.”
It’s not the first time the Senate Democratic caucus has decided to go it alone in publicizing a push to change policy.
In 2017, they held a press conference regarding hate crime penalties.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, whose caucus was also left out of the news conference, said “the bottom line is that if someone is uncomfortable, the behavior is unacceptable, and everyone needs to be sensitive to this including how an organization handles it.”
He said Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Meriden, who recently came forward and publicly shared her story of sexual harassment will also be helping to submit legislation to make the law stronger.
The Judiciary Committee has scheduled a meeting for 11 a.m. Wednesday. No agenda has been posted yet so it’s unknown if the Senate Democratic legislation will be raised for a public hearing.
“In Connecticut, Republican and Democrat lawmakers have a history of working together to improve sexual harassment prevention policies right here in the General Assembly,” Fasano said. “Leaders have continued our effort together again this year working with Legislative Management to revisit policies that were last updated in 2014. Yet at no point in those conversations did Senate Democrats bring up the policies they announced to the press today.”