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June 28, 2002
CT Upholds Discrimination of Pregnant Workers
In
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a 3-2 decision handed down Wednesday, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that companies with fewer than three employees can legally fire pregnant women.

According to the Hartford Courant, Nicole Thibodeau was fired by the Chester, Conn., architectural firm Design Group One in 1998 after she became pregnant. The firm contends that Thibodeau was fired due to poor performance.

In the court's majority ruling, Justice Richard Palmer wrote, "This state's public policy against sex discrimination by private employers is not absolute." He added, "The legislature has carved out an exception to that policy for small employers."

The Courant notes that state law prohibits businesses with three or more employees from firing a worker because she is pregnant. However, smaller firms are excepted from the rule.

Dissenting Justice Christine Vertefeuille wrote that the ruling has opened the door for small businesses to legally practice sex discrimination.

Thibodeau's lawyers contend that Thibodeau's rights under the state Constitution, which bars sex discrimination, were violated.

One of those lawyers, Elaine Rubinson, told the Courant: "The Connecticut Supreme Court is now saying that small business employees are free to discriminate. I thought we were more progressive." Rubinson also said Thibodeau may take her fight to the federal courts and state lawmakers.

Michael O'Connell, lawyer for Design One, would not comment on whether or not he believed the law was sound, but said that the court had correctly carried the law out.

"As a private citizen, I could associate with the argument that the law should be changed," he told the Courant.

The Connecticut Civil Liberties Union suggested that the state court's ruling may leave thousands of small business employees unprotected from discrimination.

Teresa Younger, executive director of the CCLU, commented, "This is a discriminatory act against women." She added, "The fear is how this can be interpreted in other protected classes."

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