Velez v. Commissioner of Labor
The term "employer" in Connecticut's family and medical leave statute, C.G.S. §31-51kk(4), applies only to businesses that employ 75 or more persons in Connecticut. Joaquina Velez filed a complaint with the Department of Labor against RMC, Related Management Company, her former employer, alleging a violation of C.G.S. §31-51kk, which by its terms, applies only to employers that employ 75 or more employees. RMC employs more than 1000 employees nationwide. The commissioner of labor dismissed the complaint on the ground that under C.G.S. §31-51kk(4) and §31-51qq-42 of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies, the leave statute does not apply to RMC because it does not employ 75 or more employees within Connecticut. Velez appealed to the trial court which sustained the appeal concluding that the commissioner's interpretation of C.G.S. §31-51kk(4) was unreasonable and that all employees of a business, not just those working in Connecticut, are to be counted in determining whether the business is an employer under the statute. The defendants, the commissioner of labor and RMS, appealed successfully claiming that the trial court improperly reversed the commissioner's decision because §31-51qq-42 of the regulations, which has the force and effect of a statute, makes clear that only Connecticut employees are to be counted under C.G.S.§ 31-51kk(4). The Supreme Court agreed and reversed the trial court's judgment concluding that the trial court incorrectly concluded that RMC is subject to the requirements of the leave statute when it employs fewer than 75 employees in Connecticut. The Supreme Court deferred to the commissioner's interpretation of §31-51qq-42 of the regulations. The commissioner's interpretation was supported not only by the regulation but by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. §2601. Construing the term "employer in C.G.S. §31-51kk(4) to apply to businesses that employ 75 or more persons in Connecticut was found wholly consistent with the small business and small operations exceptions to the federal act, and, therefore, with the express directive of C.G.S. §31-51qq that the commissioner harmonize the provisions of the state leave provisions and the federal act to the greatest extent possible. The plaintiff's construction of the leave act, by contrast, would directly contravene the dictates of C.G.S. §31-51qq.