By Mike Savino
HARTFORD — With workplace sexual misconduct remaining in the public spotlight, Rep. Liz Linehan is seeking legislation aimed at encouraging more people to come forward with complaints.
Linehan, D-Cheshire, is proposing legislation that would extend the time period to submit complaints to the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, to require any “immediate corrective action” be fair, and to allow for complainants to recover legal costs when awarded damages.
Linehan said the legislation is a response to a hesitation many victims have in coming forward, as well as criticisms from people questioning why they waited so long.
“As we know, with the Me Too movement and the Times Up movement, everyone’s been talking about, ‘well, why does it take so long for someone to actually come forward with their complaint,’” she said.
The legislature is in a shorter session this year, though, and individual lawmakers cannot submit their own bills. That means Linehan needs to convince a committee chairperson to raise the proposal, but at least has already expressed support.
Complaints must be brought to the CHRO within 180 days of the incident, unless ongoing behavior can be proven, but Linehan wants to extend that deadline to 300 days for sexual harassment complaints.
State law should also ensure that any immediate corrective actions, or initial steps taken by employers while investigating a complaint, shouldn’t unfairly affect the complainants, Linehan said.
As an example, Linehan said state law should require the complainant agree to a change in work hours before an employer takes such action.
“A lot of times, someone says ‘I love my job; I don’t want to complain because I don’t want to stop doing my job,” she said. “So we want to make sure that it is equal there.”
Lastly, Linehan said victims sometimes avoid filing complaints due to potential legal costs, and thus CHRO should be able to include attorneys fees when awarding damages.
Linehan said she is already working with the co-chairs of the legislature’s Labor and Public Employees and Judiciary committees — the Judiciary Committee has cognizance over CHRO — to build support.
Rep. Robyn Porter, R-New Haven, offered her support for a proposal Monday, saying such a bill would “show that this type of behavior is not condoned in Connecticut.”
"The time is now to use this moment to create a movement that transforms our workplace culture,” said Porter, who co-chairs the Labor and Public Employees Committee. “No man or woman should ever feel threatened or uncomfortable in their working environment. Rather, employees should feel empowered and respected by one another.”
None of the Judiciary Committee’s three co-chairs could be reached through their press aids for comment Monday afternoon.
The Connecticut Business & Industry Association declined to comment on Linehan’s proposal, saying it would first need to review the legislation. CBIA did voice its support last week for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to expand sexual harassment training requirements for small employers.
“Connecticut workplaces should be free from harassment, which is why lawmakers must consider giving employers the tools to enforce their own workplace harassment and violence prevention policies,” CBIA counsel Eric Gjede wrote on the organization’s website.
Linehan has shared her own experience with workplace sexual misconduct, telling the Record-Journal in December that her career in radio was derailed after she complained that a coworker sexually assaulted her.
She said Monday that she proposed the bill because the Me Too movement has shown others have had the same experience.