Labor Relations and Employment Law: Developments in Connecticut in 1992

JurisdictionConnecticut,United States
Publication year2021
CitationVol. 67 Pg. 81
Pages81
Connecticut Bar Journal
Volume 67.

67 CBJ 81. Labor Relations and Employment Law: Developments In Connecticut in 1992




81


Labor Relations and Employment Law: Developments In Connecticut in 1992

By KENNETH R. PLUMB (fn*)

Although there were no "landmark" labor and employment law decisions in 1992, the courts were extremely active in grappling with a myriad of labor and employment law issues during the past year. Unfortunately, many of these issues resulted from the recessionary times facing Connecticut and its workforce, both in the public as well as the private sectors. Indeed, many of the more interesting decisions from last year arose out of the public sector. This article will briefly examine some of the noteworthy 1992 decisions of the Connecticut Supreme Court, Appellate Court, Superior Court and the State Board of Labor Relations. Several of the prominent pieces of 1992 state legislation also will be reviewed.

I. SUPREME COURT

Unlike previous years, the most significant 1992 labor and employment decisions of the Connecticut Supreme Court did not focus on wrongful discharge cases involving private sector employers and their so-called "at-will" employees. Instead, the high court's 1992 docket addressed a variety of issues pertaining primarily to the discharge of "public sector" employees, often relating to the constitutional "due process" rights of such employees. Two of these decisions, Clisham v. Board of Police Commissioners (fn1) and Tedesco v. City of Stamford (fn2) reversed lower court decisions reported in last year's annual survey.

Several cases involving the termination of Connecticut municipal police chiefs have taken on a life of their own during the past several years. From "gavel to gavel" coverage by local cable access stations of the hearings to multiple lawsuits, these cases have significantly contributed to establishing the type and degree of constitutional due process protection which must be afforded to municipal and other public sector employees. One of these high profile cases, Clisham v. Board of Police Commissioners, addressed the extent to which municipal boards of police commissioners ("board") involved in termination




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proceedings must be impartial or unbiased in order to satisfy state (fn3) and federal (fn4) constitutional due process requirements.

In Clisham, the termination of the plaintiff chief of police had been a stated goal of the incoming mayor during his election campaign. Although the mayor, a member of the board, excused himself from the deliberations pertaining to the chief's termination, a fellow political confidante who was also a commissioner and had publicly criticized the plaintiff, refused to exclude himself both from the deliberations and from voting during the meetings at which the commissioners unanimously voted to terminate the plaintiff. Following the board's vote, the plaintiff appealed to superior court claiming that (1) be was denied a hearing by an impartial panel in violation of due process; (2) the board improperly based its decision to dismiss the plaintiff on facts known at the time of his appointment; and (3) the board's decision to remove the plaintiff violated the "unanimity requirement" contained in one of the town's local ordinances. The trial court rejected each of these claims and plaintiff's appeal to the appellate court was transferred directly to the supreme court.

On appeal, the supreme court addressed only the impartiality or bias claim because it reversed the trial court on this issue and remanded the case to the board of police commissioners for a new hearing. The high court noted that constitutional due process demands the existence of impartiality on the part of those who function in a quasi-judicial capacity. Although the burden is on the plaintiff to show that the adjudication was unlawfully biased because a board member bad essentially prejudged the case prior to hearing it, the court found that the evidence in this case sufficiently demonstrated that the board member in this case had in fact prejudged the matter. The evidence relied upon by the high court included, among other items: (1) the close political relationship between the board member and the mayor; (2) efforts, ultimately abandoned, by the board member and the mayor to change the town's regulations to require less than a unanimous vote of the board for the police chief's removal; and (3) statements made by the board member to the press during the hearings in support




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of certain articles critical of both the plaintiff and his operation of the police department. (fn5)

The court also rejected the board's argument that the claim of bias bad been untimely raised by the plaintiff, noting that such a claim must be filed with "reasonable promptness" after a litigant became aware that there is enough "cumulative evidence" to support a claim that an adjudication may be unlawfully biased. Such an allegation need not be made immediately after discovery of the first isolated piece of evidence which might support a finding of bias.

Finally, the court rejected the board's argument that the so-called "doctrine of necessity" mandated that its decision be upheld. In other words, since the town's ordinances did not provide a procedure for replacing board members who disqualified themselves, and no other tribunal was given the authority to remove the chief of police, the board members were required, by "necessity," to remain on the panel. The court, however, concluded that upholding the board's decision merely because the town did not provide a procedure for replacing disqualified board members would be a "miscarriage of justice" and further, the applicable board member could have remedied the situation by resigning.

The other case decided by the supreme court in 1992 and reported in the survey of 1991 law is Tedesco v. Stamford. Last year's decision actually marked the fourth time that this matter has been before the Connecticut appellate courts. The case evolved from the termination of the plaintiff, a trash collector for the city, in November 1981 for extensive absenteeism primarily due to an injured torn rotator cuff. Following his termination, the union filed a grievance with the city and processed the grievance through two meetings with city officials as outlined in the first two steps of the grievance/arbitration procedures contained in the parties' collective bargaining agreement. The union decided, however, not to pursue the grievance to arbitration, arguing that the plaintiff's case was "too weak" to be successful in that forum. The plaintiff sued, claiming, among other things, that the city had violated his right to procedural due process by failing to afford the plaintiff a hearing. On this appeal, the supreme court characterized the




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dispositive issue as "whether a municipal employee whose employment was terminated was afforded his fourteenth amendment right to procedural due process by the union grievance procedures established under a collective bargaining agreement." (fn6) The court concluded that at least in this case "the grievance procedures in the collective bargaining agreement satisfied the plaintiff's right to procedural due process." (fn7)

The court began its analysis by noting that due process is a "flexible" concept which, pursuant to the United States Supreme Court's decision in Mathews v. Eldridge, (fn8) requires a balancing of three distinct factors:

First, the private interest that will be affected by the official action; second, the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through theprocedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards and finally, the Government's interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail. (fn9)

The court also noted that even if the United States Supreme Court's Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill (fn10) was applicable to this case, (Tedesco's termination occurred prior to the issuance of Cleveland Board of Education) that decision did not address the issue of "what process a public employee is due when there are union grievance procedures set in place by a collective bargaining agreement." (fn11) Applying the Mathews v. Eldridge analysis to the facts of this case, the court found that any right the plaintiff may have had to a termination hearing, had to be "tempered" by society's interest in "an orderly and efficient system of dispute resolution in the public sector." Eliminating a union's right to decide whether or not to take a grievance to arbitration would seriously undermine a union's control over the grievance process, thereby, all but eliminating the consistent treatment of collective bargaining agreement disputes and ultimately destroying the "settlement machinery" established by the parties.




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In this case, the employee had, pursuant to the grievance procedure, two meetings with city officials regarding his termination. Further, he had the opportunity to sue the union for any alleged failure to satisfy its "duty of fair representation." (fn12) Although the court determined the plaintiff had received "all the process that he was due," it refused to "hold that the existence of grievance procedures in a collective bargaining agreement automatically satisfies an employee's right to due process." (fn13) Rather, each disciplinary action and applicable collective bargaining agreement must be judged in connection with the facts of each case.

The scope of the mandatory binding arbitration provision of the Municipal Employee Relations Act ("MERA") (fn14) was addressed by the supreme court in City of Danbury v. International Assn. of Firefighters, I.A.F.F., Local 801. (fn15) The City of Danbury was considering establishing a...

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