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Settlement negotiations are admissible to
show breakdown of interactive process

Kovachich v. Mental Health & Addiction Services (Connecticut 09/27/2022)
Sent to Custom Alerts™ subscribers on 09/29/2022

Kovachich sued the employer for employment discrimination and retaliation because of her disability. The Connecticut Supreme Court reversed the appellate court's judgment for the employer.

The big takeaway from this case is that settlement negotiations (normally excluded from evidence) can be introduced into evidence in order to prove "a party’s compliance or noncompliance with the applicable legal requirements regarding the initiation of or participation in the good faith interactive process."

Kovachich was diagnosed with allergic and nonallergic rhinitis and asthma and began experiencing debilitating reactions when exposed to scents. She requested accommodations, and the employer provided her with certain workplace accommodations, including a scent-free environment, but some employees failed to comply with the scent-free designation. The employer took no additional measures to enforce the scent-free designation.

Kovachich filed a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO). During this time, the employer updated its scent exposure policy and prohibited Kovachich from using any of the accommodations it had previously granted her. Kovachich retired based on the employer's failure to provide her with reasonable accommodations.

During the trial, Kovachich sought to introduce into evidence three exhibits containing emails between her attorney and the employer's attorney, and a letter her attorney sent to the CHRO investigator. In those communications, Kovachich's attorney addressed instances of scent exposures, proposed various policies, and clarified and sought a meeting to discuss Kovachich's requested accommodations. The employer objected, but the trial court overruled the objection, and the Connecticut Supreme Court held that the emails could be used as evidence.

The employer's central argument – rejected by the court – was that the emails had to be excluded from evidence because they were part of settlement negotiations.

The court explained that although evidence of an offer to compromise or settle a disputed claim is inadmissible on the issues of liability and damages, such evidence may be admissible if it is offered for another purpose. Here, Kovachich sought to admit the evidence to establish the employer's failure to engage in the good faith interactive process.

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