The Connecticut state agency that handles claims of employment and housing discrimination received almost as many complaints in 2016 as its counterpart in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts has nearly double Connecticut’s population but only 15 percent more discrimination claims raising questions as to whether Connecticut is simply more litigious or if the policies at the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities are encouraging more claims.

The CHRO showed a total of 2,616 new complaints in its 2016 annual report. This marked an increase of 5 percent from the previous year and a 42 percent increase from 2012.

Neighboring Massachusetts registered 3,082 complaints, only 15 percent more than Connecticut, according to the 2016 annual report by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

This amounts to one claim per 1,372 Connecticut residents as opposed to one claim per 2,204 state residents in Massachusetts.

The difference between the two states may highlight some of the difficulties faced by employers and property owners in Connecticut as opposed to its rapidly growing neighbor to the north.

Of the new complaints filed with the MCAD in 2016, 2,505 were employment related and 387 were housing issues. The remaining number of claims were made up of public accommodation and education complaints.

In Connecticut those numbers were 2,160 and 220 respectively with an additional 217 accommodation complaints and 19 claims classified as “other.”

While the CHRO touted its year end numbers claiming it had “the best production rate of any similar agency” through securing $10.2 million in settlements, the MCAD found that the large majority of their cases lacked probable cause.

Of the 2,446 cases the Massachusetts agency closed following a complete investigation in 2016, 87 percent were closed due to insufficient evidence to support the claim.

Conversely, the CHRO closed only 54 percent of the claims due to lack of evidence.

Some employers and property owners claim they are forced to settle with the agency to avoid a longer and more costly battle, even when there is no evidence they did anything wrong.

Discrimination claims to the CHRO have continued to rise. The number of complaints in employment discrimination grew 38 percent and claims of housing discrimination grew 78 percent since 2012.

Claims in Massachusetts have remained relatively flat during that same time period, down 100 claims – 3 percent – since 2012.

The MCAD also handled more cases with a smaller budget and, up until 2016, operated with a smaller staff.

The CHRO operates with a budget of $6.5 million and is budgeted an operating staff of 85 according to the commissioner’s 2016 administrative report to the Gov. Dannel Malloy. However, the CHRO is understaffed at this time with only 66 employees.

The MCAD operates with a $5.5 million budget of which only $2.9 million is appropriated from the state.

The agency makes up the rest of its budget through retained revenue, which is money provided to the state by federal government agencies such as Housing and Urban Development and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

This enabled the agency to be under budget and actually return $12,225 to the Massachusetts General Fund in 2016.

In a response letter, CHRO executive director Tanya Hughes states that the agency receives $2 million in federal funding and returns “a substantial portion” of its allocated budget to Connecticut’s General Fund due to its understaffing.

The Massachusetts agency had previously operated with a staff of 70 but hired an additional 15 employees in 2016.

The CHRO was the subject of a public hearing before the program review and investigations committee in September. A number of business and property owners showed up to vent their frustration with the agency and the process.

The agency’s website previously claimed that it was in respondents’ best interest to settle the claim regardless of whether they had done anything wrong. The page has since been taken down.

This article was changed to reflect the current number of CHRO employees and CHRO’s response to the article.

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