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Connecticut Protections for Workplace Speech Revised

Bloomberg BNA - Daily Labor Report

October 6, 2015

Reproduced with permission from Daily Labor Report, 193 DLR A-16 (Oct. 6, 2015). Copyright 2015 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033) http://www.bna.com.

By Martha W. Kessler

Oct. 5 — The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in a decision issued Oct. 5 that under the state constitution and state statute, employee speech related to official job duties is protected in specific situations in the public sector and in the private workplace as well (Trusz v. UBS Realty Investors LLC, 2015 BL 327798, Conn., No. SC 19323, 10/5/15).

The court found that under the Connecticut constitution, “employee speech pursuant to official job duties on certain matters of significant public interest is protected from employer discipline in a public workplace, and that [Conn. Gen. Stats.] § 31-5q extends the same protection to employee speech pursuant to official job duties in the private workplace.”

The court, in an opinion by Justice Richard N. Palmer, said it further concluded that a modified form of the Pickering/Connick balancing test applies to speech by a public employee in the course of the employee's official duties under the state constitution and that state statute extends the same protection to similar speech by a private employee.

The question was brought before the court on certification of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut in a case involving Richard Trusz, a former managing director of UBS Realty Investors LLC. The federal court will continue consideration of that case with the opinion provided by the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Case Seen as ‘Significant.'

Daniel Schwartz, an employment law attorney in Connecticut writing in a blog entry, called the ruling one of the most “significant”cases for employers to be issued by the Connecticut Supreme Court in some time.

He said the court ruled that “the free speech limits established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Garcetti v. Ceballos [547 U.S. 410, 24 IER Cases 737 (2006)]—namely that speech pursuant to an employee's official job duties was not protected—did not apply to claims brought under the  Connecticut Constitution.”

In other words, Schwartz said, “there are broad protections for employees who raise issues of public concern in both the private and public workplaces.

Schwartz and Clarisse N. Thomas had filed a brief in the matter for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association Inc. as amicus curiae. However, Schwartz made his blog comments on his own and not as representative for the CBIA, he said.

Justices Dennis D. Eveleigh, Andrew J. McDonald, Carmen E. Espinosa, Richard A Robinson and Christine S. Vertefeuille concurred.

Justice Peter T. Zarella concurred but wrote separately to say the decision should not apply to private sector employees.

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