Tomick v. United Parcel Serv., Inc.

Decision Date30 December 2016
Docket NumberSC 19505
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
Parties Michael TOMICK v. UNITED PARCEL SERVICE, INC., et al.

Cassie N. Jameson, with whom, on the brief, was Michael D. Colonese, for the appellant (plaintiff).

Michael C. Harrington, with whom were Jennifer A. Corvo and, on the brief, Proloy K. Das and Sarah M. Gruber, for the appellee (named defendant).

Marc P. Mercier filed a brief for the Connecticut Employment Lawyers Association as amicus curiae.

Charles Krich, principal attorney, and Michael E. Roberts, human rights attorney, filed a brief for the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities as amicus curiae.

Rogers, C.J., and Palmer, Zarella, Eveleigh, McDonald and Robinson, Js.

ROBINSON, J.

In this certified appeal, we consider whether General Statutes § 46a–1041 provides for an award of statutory punitive damages as a remedy for discriminatory practices under the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (act), General Statutes § 46a–51 et seq. The plaintiff, Michael Tomick, appeals, upon our grant of his petition for certification,2 from the judgment of the Appellate Court affirming the trial court's decision to set aside a jury award of $500,000 in statutory punitive damages against the defendant United Parcel Service, Inc.3 Tomick v. United Parcel Service, Inc. , 157 Conn.App. 312, 115 A.3d 1143 (2015) (Tomick II ). On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the Appellate Court improperly ignored the plain language of § 46a–104 in concluding that the statute does not authorize punitive damages. We disagree with the plaintiff, and conclude that § 46a–104 does not provide for an award of punitive damages. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The record and the Appellate Court opinion reveal the following facts and procedural history. The plaintiff had been employed by the defendant as a driver. After the defendant terminated the plaintiff's employment,4 the plaintiff filed a seven count complaint against the defendant alleging, inter alia, disability discrimination in violation of General Statutes § 46a–60 (a) (1).5 Id. at 320, 115 A.3d 1143. Following a jury trial, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, awarding him, inter alia, $500,000 in statutory punitive damages. Id. at 321, 115 A.3d 1143. On July 19, 2010, the defendant moved to set aside the verdict and the award of punitive damages. Id. The trial court denied the motion to set aside the verdict, but granted the motion to set aside the award of punitive damages. Id.

Both parties appealed from the judgment of the trial court. See generally Tomick v. United Parcel Service, Inc. , 135 Conn.App. 589, 43 A.3d 722 (Tomick I ), cert. denied, 305 Conn. 920, 47 A.3d 389 (2012). After a remand to the trial court; see id. at 613, 43 A.3d 722 ;6 the Appellate Court considered the plaintiff's claim that the trial court improperly determined that § 46a–104 does not authorize an award of punitive damages.7 Tomick II , supra, 157 Conn.App. at 333, 115 A.3d 1143. In its decision, the Appellate Court began by reviewing Ames v. Commissioner of Motor Vehicles , 267 Conn. 524, 526, 839 A.2d 1250 (2004), in which this court considered whether express statutory language is required to authorize an award of multiple damages. Tomick II , supra, at 336–41, 115 A.3d 1143. Although the plaintiff claimed that the discussion in Ames regarding punitive damages was "mere dictum," the Appellate Court disagreed and determined that Ames was binding authority. Id. at 338–41, 115 A.3d 1143. The Appellate Court read Ames as stating a common-law rule that statutory punitive damages require express statutory authority, and applied that reasoning to the question of whether § 46a–104 authorized punitive damages.8

The Appellate Court turned next to statutes related to § 46a–104 and discussed instances in which the legislature specifically provided for punitive damages, in contrast to the plain language of § 46a–104. Id. at 341, 115 A.3d 1143. On the basis of these statutes, the Appellate Court observed that the legislature knows how to provide for statutory punitive damages, when it wishes to do so. Id. Ultimately, the Appellate Court concluded that, "[b]ecause the language of § 46a–104 does not explicitly provide for punitive damages, the plaintiff is not entitled to such relief under the statute." Id. Thus, the Appellate Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in setting aside the $500,000 statutory punitive damages award. Id. This certified appeal followed. See footnote 2 of this opinion.

On appeal, the plaintiff claims that § 46a–104 is plain and unambiguous, because the phrase "legal and equitable relief," as modified by the phrase "including, but not limited to," authorizes all forms of legal and equitable relief, including punitive damages. The plaintiff further contends that the legislature included language that specifically precludes punitive damage awards in other statutes, which undercuts the Appellate Court's conclusion that the legislature intended not to allow awards of punitive damages pursuant to § 46a–104, which is silent on that point. With respect to Ames v. Commissioner of Motor Vehicles , supra, 267 Conn. 524, 839 A.2d 1250, the plaintiff claims that its holding is limited to General Statutes (Rev. to 2003) § 14–52,9 and that it cannot be read to establish a bright line rule requiring the legislature to expressly authorize punitive damages every time it intends to make statutory punitive damages available. Finally, the plaintiff contends that his interpretation of § 46a–104 allowing for awards of punitive damages is consistent with the remedial purpose of the act to afford relief to complainants and prevent future discrimination.

In response, the defendant relies on Ames v. Commissioner of Motor Vehicles , supra, 267 Conn. at 536, 839 A.2d 1250, for the proposition that, under Connecticut common law, statutory punitive damages must be authorized expressly by the legislature, and because § 46a–104 does not provide such express authorization, it therefore does not permit awards of statutory punitive damages as a form of relief. The defendant compares § 46a–104 to other related human rights statutes in which the legislature specifically provided for punitive damages, to argue that the plaintiff's interpretation of § 46a–104 would render superfluous language in these other statutes, contravening the well established canon of statutory construction that assumes all statutory language is meaningful. The defendant also highlights the legislative history of § 46a–104, observing that its stated purpose was to address the backlog of cases within the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (commission), and that the topic of punitive damages under the act was never debated. Finally, the defendant contends that punitive damage awards are not necessary to accomplish the remedial purpose of the act, in light of other significant relief that may be awarded under the statute. We agree with the defendant, and conclude that punitive damages are not an available remedy under § 46a–104.10

The issue of whether § 46a–104 allows an award of punitive damages as a remedy presents a question of statutory construction over which we exercise plenary review.11 Gonzalez v. O & G Industries, Inc. , 322 Conn. 291, 302, 140 A.3d 950 (2016). "When construing a statute, [o]ur fundamental objective is to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature.... In other words, we seek to determine, in a reasoned manner, the meaning of the statutory language as applied to the facts of [the] case, including the question of whether the language actually does apply.... In seeking to determine that meaning, General Statutes § 1–2z directs us first to consider the text of the statute itself and its relationship to other statutes. If, after examining such text and considering such relationship, the meaning of such text is plain and unambiguous and does not yield absurd or unworkable results, extratextual evidence of the meaning of the statute shall not be considered.... When a statute is not plain and unambiguous, we also look for interpretive guidance to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter .... The test to determine ambiguity is whether the statute, when read in context, is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id. at 302–303, 140 A.3d 950. Significantly, "our case law is clear that ambiguity exists only if the statutory language at issue is susceptible to more than one plausible interpretation." State v. Orr , 291 Conn. 642, 654, 969 A.2d 750 (2009).

In accordance with § 1–2z, we begin our analysis with the text of the statute. Section 46a–104 provides the following: "The court may grant a complainant in an action brought in accordance with section 46a–100 such legal and equitable relief which it deems appropriate including, but not limited to , temporary or permanent injunctive relief, attorney's fees and court costs. The amount of attorney's fees allowed shall not be contingent upon the amount of damages requested by or awarded to the complainant." (Emphasis added.) Although the defendant agrees that this language is expansive, it argues that the phrase "including, but not limited to" does not implicitly include relief for which express authorization otherwise is required. The plaintiff, however, contends that the term "legal ... relief" includes punitive damages, and so textually, § 46a–104 provides for punitive damages. We conclude that both interpretations are plausible, rendering § 46a–104 ambiguous.

Neither § 46a–104, the act, nor related human rights statutes define either term as used in § 46a–104. General...

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