JOAQUINA VELEZ v. STATE OF CONNECTICUT DEPARTMENT OF LABOR et al., SC 18683/18684

Judicial District of New Britain

 

Connecticut Family and Medical Leave Law; Whether Employees who do not work in Connecticut should be Counted in Determining Whether an Employer has Seventy-Five or more Employees for Purposes of 31-51kk (4). The plaintiff filed a complaint with the state department of labor alleging that her employer, defendant Related Management Company, had violated the Connecticut family and medical leave law, General Statutes 31-51kk et seq., in firing her. The department of labor dismissed her complaint, finding that Related Management was not subject to the state family and medical leave law because it employed only thirty-five employees in Connecticut, and General Statutes 31-51kk (4) defines an "employer" for purposes of the family and medical leave law as one "who employs seventy-five or more employees." The plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court, and the parties stipulated that, while Related Management employed only thirty-five people in Connecticut, it had over a thousand employees nationwide. The trial court disagreed that Related Management was not an employer for purposes of the family and medical leave law. The court noted that 31-51kk (4) contains no geographic limitation on counting employees and ruled that, in determining whether an employer meets the statutory seventy-five employee threshold, out-of-state employees should be counted. The court refused to defer to two previous department of labor decisions that concluded that 31-51kk (4) did not allow the counting of out-of-state employees, finding that those decisions were not reasonable and that the agency's interpretation of the statute would ignore the underlying purpose of protecting small employers and instead skew the exemption in favor of those employers having few employees in Connecticut but many employees in other states. Related Management and the department of labor appeal. They claim that the trial court should have deferred to the agency's reasonable and time-tested interpretation of 31-51kk (4) and that its interpretation is supported both by reference to the agency's regulations and the legislative history of the family and medical leave law. The department of labor also argues that the court's interpretation of 31-51kk (4) would lead to unworkable results.