559 A.2d 1120 (Conn. 1989), 13600, State v. Commission On Human Rights and Opportunities

Docket Nº:13600.
Citation:559 A.2d 1120, 211 Conn. 464
Opinion Judge:GLASS, J.
Party Name:STATE of Connecticut et al. v. COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND OPPORTUNITIES et al.
Attorney:Judith M. Hecker, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom, on the brief, were Clarine Nardi Riddle, Acting Atty. Gen., Joseph I. Lieberman, former Atty. Gen., and Charles A. Overend, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellants (plaintiffs)., Philip A. Murphy, Jr., Commission Counsel, with whom was Charles A. Krich, Sta...
Judge Panel:Before PETERS, CJ, and SHEA, CALLAHAN, GLASS and COVELLO
Case Date:June 13, 1989
Court:Supreme Court of Connecticut
 
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Page 1120

559 A.2d 1120 (Conn. 1989)

211 Conn. 464

STATE of Connecticut et al.

v.

COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND OPPORTUNITIES et al.

No. 13600.

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

June 13, 1989

Argued Feb. 28, 1989.

Page 1121

Judith M. Hecker, Asst. Atty. Gen., with whom, on the brief, were Clarine Nardi Riddle, Acting [211 Conn. 465] Atty. Gen., Joseph I. Lieberman, former Atty. Gen., and Charles A. Overend, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellants (plaintiffs).

Philip A. Murphy, Jr., Commission Counsel, with whom was Charles A. Krich, Staff Atty., for appellee (named defendant).

Before PETERS, C.J., and SHEA, CALLAHAN, GLASS and COVELLO, JJ.

GLASS, Associate Justice.

The plaintiffs, the state of Connecticut and the state teachers retirement board (board), appealed to the Appellate Court from a judgment of the Superior Court upholding an order of the defendant commission on human rights and opportunities (CHRO) awarding the defendant Paul B. Kirkland an increase in his future pension benefits. We transferred the case to ourselves pursuant to Practice Book § 4023. We find error in part and remand the case to the trial court to modify the judgment in accordance with this opinion.

The facts are not disputed. Kirkland retired from his teaching position in the West Hartford school system on February 1, 1975. Chapter 167 of the General Statutes required public school teachers to participate in a retirement benefits program, the state teachers' retirement system (system). See General Statutes (Rev. to 1975) § 10-160 et seq. 1 The board administers retirement benefits under the system. General Statutes (Rev. to 1975) § 10-163 (currently § 10-183l ). The system is a "defined" retirement benefit plan, under which a certain benefit is determined in

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part by the retiree's average annual salary. At the time of Kirkland's retirement, the board funded the system by a "terminal" funding method, by which both the state and the system member contributed a sum of money to pay the defined retirement benefits. The state's contributions comprised approximately 75 percent of the funding. After Kirkland had retired, the legislature authorized automatic[211 Conn. 466] annual cost of living increases for all retired teachers. See General Statutes § 10-183g(j). In addition, in 1982, the legislature provided "catch-up" adjustments which increased retirement benefits in proportion to the length of retirement. The "catch-up" adjustments have been funded by amortizing the cost over a thirty year period.

Kirkland received his first retirement benefit check in February, 1975. As an early retiree, Kirkland's benefits were actuarially reduced. General Statutes (Rev. to 1975) § 10-166. The board calculated appropriate reductions for early retirees by use of sex-based actuarial tables. Because of the board's use of these tables, female early retirees received monthly retirement benefits based on a larger percentage of their average salary than similarly situated males. Thus, Kirkland received, and continues to receive, a lesser amount in his monthly pension check than similarly situated females. On July 1, 1976, however, the board discontinued use of the gender-based tables and adopted a "unisex" table for computing the benefits of early retirees retiring after that date. Retirement benefits for early retiring males computed by the unisex table are equivalent to benefits for similarly situated females. Pension benefits for teachers who retire at regular retirement age have never varied according to sex.

On June 29, 1977, Kirkland filed a complaint with the CHRO, alleging that the board had discriminated against him on the basis of sex. General Statutes (Rev. to 1975) § 31-126(a). 2 In October, 1979, Kirkland asked [211 Conn. 467] the board for a recalculation of his benefits based on the unisex table. The board denied his request in November, 1979, in part because he had filed a complaint with the CHRO. In February, 1980, Kirkland filed an amended complaint with the CHRO, adding the state of Connecticut as a respondent. In the amended complaint, Kirkland sought relief for himself and all similarly situated male retirees. The remedy sought was the difference between what he and the other male retirees had received in benefits since their retirements and what they would have received had their benefits been determined by the unisex actuarial table adopted by the board in 1976. The amended complaint also sought a future adjustment of benefits to equal that which would have been received had the benefits been computed by the unisex table.

Ultimately, in January, 1986, a CHRO hearing officer found that the board's use of gender-based tables to calculate retirement benefits discriminated against Kirkland and similarly situated men on the basis

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of sex. The hearing officer ordered the board to compensate the "class" for the difference between the benefits received since their retirements and the benefits [211 Conn. 468] received by early retiring females who had retired Before July 1, 1976. She also ordered the board to equalize the class's future benefits with the benefits of similarly situated females.

The plaintiffs appealed the CHRO's decision to the Superior Court. General Statutes (Rev. to 1987) § 46a-95(j); General Statutes § 4-183. They argued that Kirkland's complaint was untimely under General Statutes (Rev. to 1975) § 31-127 3 because he had failed to file it with the CHRO within 180 days of the alleged act of discrimination. They also claimed that the CHRO hearing officer exceeded her authority in awarding Kirkland and similarly situated male retirees both retroactive and future compensation. The trial court agreed with the CHRO hearing officer that because each pension check Kirkland received constituted a "new act of discrimination" under General Statutes (Rev. to 1975) § 31-126(a), Kirkland's complaint was not untimely. The trial court sustained the plaintiffs' appeal in part, however, ruling that the hearing officer had no authority to fashion relief for anyone but Kirkland. The trial court also ruled that the CHRO's retroactive adjustment was improper. See Arizona Governing Committee v. Norris, 463 U.S. 1073, 1106, 103 S.Ct. 3492, 3510, 77 L.Ed.2d 1236 (1983); Los Angeles Department of Water & Power v. Manhart, 435 U.S. 702, 98 S.Ct. 1370, 55 L.Ed.2d 657 (1978). The trial court, however, did not address the plaintiffs' appeal of the order equalizing Kirkland's future benefits. Thereafter, the plaintiffs moved to open the judgment and for reconsideration in light of the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in Florida v. Long, [211 Conn. 469] 487 U.S. 223 , 108 S.Ct. 2354, 101 L.Ed.2d 206 (1988). In a subsequent memorandum of decision, the trial court opened the judgment, rejected the plaintiffs' reliance on Florida v. Long, supra, and sustained the CHRO's order requiring future equalization of Kirkland's benefits. 4

On appeal from the trial court's judgment, the plaintiffs do not dispute the finding that the board's use of gender-based actuarial tables to compute retirement benefits violated General Statutes (Rev. to 1975) § 31-126(a). They claim, however, that the trial court erred in concluding that (1) Kirkland's complaint was not untimely, and (2) the CHRO hearing officer did not exceed her authority or abuse her discretion in awarding Kirkland future equalization of benefits. The trial court's invalidation of the hearing officer's class-wide relief and the retroactive relief afforded Kirkland are not at issue in this appeal. We find error in the trial court's affirmation of the amount of the future benefit increase to which Kirkland is entitled, and remand the case with direction to modify the judgment in accordance with this opinion.

I

Because the plaintiffs generally rely on federal case law to support their claims, it is useful to recognize the scope of our past reliance on federal law concerning discriminatory employment practices. "Although the [211 Conn. 470] language of [Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, § 703(a)(1); 42 U.S.C.

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2000e-2(a) ] 5 and that of the Connecticut statute differ slightly, it is clear that the intent of the legislature in adopting 1967 Public Acts, No. 426 (which extended the provisions of the Fair Employment Practices Act ... to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex) was to make the Connecticut statute coextensive with the federal." Pik-Kwik Stores, Inc. v. Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities, 170 Conn. 327, 331, 365 A.2d 1210 (1976); Wroblewski v. Lexington Gardens, Inc., 188 Conn. 44, 53, 448 A.2d 801 (1982). Although we are not bound by federal interpretation of Title VII provisions, "[w]e have often looked to federal employment discrimination law for guidance in enforcing our own antidiscrimination statute." Department of Health Services v. Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities, 198 Conn. 479, 489, 503 A.2d 1151 (1986). Nevertheless, we have also recognized that, under certain circumstances, federal law defines "the beginning and not the end of our approach to the subject." Evening Sentinel v. National Organization for Women, 168 Conn. 26, 34-35 n. 5, 357 A.2d 498 (1975).

The plaintiffs first claim that the trial court erred in affirming the CHRO hearing officer's conclusion that the complaint Kirkland filed with the CHRO on June 29, 1977, was timely. General Statutes (Rev. to 1975) § 31-127 provides in relevant part that "[a]ny [211 Conn. 471] complaint filed pursuant to [the fair employment practices act] must be so filed within one hundred and eighty days after the alleged act of discrimination." According to the plaintiffs, the "alleged act of discrimination" occurred no later than March, 1975, when Kirkland received written notice that his pension benefits had been formally approved. They assert that each monthly pension check represented the "present effects"...

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