Significant 2007 Employment Law Decisions

Publication year2021
Connecticut Bar Journal
Volume 82.


Connecticut Bar Journal
Volume 82, No. 2, Pg. 205
June 2008


There were several significant additions to Connecticut's employment law jurisprudence in 2007. The Supreme Court fashioned new protections for Connecticut employers when they provide negative employment references to prospective employers, holding that these references are qualifiedly privileged.(fn1) It also decided an important Family and Medical Leave Act case, addressing a provision of the Act permitting FMLAeligible employees to utilize accrued paid sick time to care for seriously ill dependents and not solely for their own illnesses.(fn2) And it resolved an interesting Uniform Trade Secrets Act(fn3) case in which it dealt with the appropriate scope of injunctive relief and the availability of punitive damages under the Act.(fn4)

The Appellate Court also decided several significant employment law decisions in 2007, two of which the Supreme Court will consider on certification. In one,(fn5) the Appellate Court chose not to follow United States Supreme Court precedent in Title VII cases, as well as the route most state courts have taken in cases brought under their local civil rights acts, when it decided that the time period for filing a discriminatory discharge complaint under the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act begins to run from the final date of employment, not from the date the employee receives notice of the termination. In the other, the Appellate Court held that a state employee cannot file a damage action against the state under CFEPA without first obtaining permission from the state's claims commissioner.(fn6) The Appellate Court also decided a workers' compensation discrimination case in which it confirmed that an employer has no obligation to reasonably accommodate a disability under the Workers' Compensation Act, but that the breach of an agreement to accommodate an employee's physical therapy schedule reached at an informal hearing could violate General Statutes section 31-290a.(fn7)

This article surveys these and other significant 2007 employment law decisions.


In Broadnax vs. City of New Haven(fn8) the Court revisited a case first before it in 2004.(fn9) In the original case ("Broadnax I"), the Court invalidated a practice the city had used to effect promotions within its fire department and upheld the appointment of a special master to oversee future promotions. Broadnax II concerned a single promotion effected through a union-filed grievance (a grievance seeking the promotion of a specific firefighter to an open fire inspector's position) and a settlement of that grievance that placed the firefighter in the higher position. The city asked the special master to approve the placement. The master held a hearing and found that the promotion should be rejected because it was made in violation of the city's civil service rules. Following the procedure Broadnax I mandated, the special master reported his findings to the Superior Court, recommending that the court, which had final authority, reject the promotion for the reasons he cited. The court agreed with the master and entered judgment accordingly. The union appealed, asserting, as it had all along, that the master and the trial court had erred in rejecting its claim that the city's civil service rules and the court's order regarding oversight were all trumped by the grievance settlement, and that the Municipal Employees Relations Act, specifically General Statutes section 7-474(f),(fn10) mandated this result.

The Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed the ruling below.

The Court noted that collective bargaining agreements trump civil service rules only in connection with "matters appropriate to collective bargaining."(fn11) It concluded that the promotion at issue in this case - a promotion made pursuant to a grievance settlement - was not a matter "appropriate to collective bargaining" within the meaning of section 7-474(f).

In reaching that conclusion, the Court examined section 7- 474(g)(fn12) and its prior decision in Murchinson v. Civil Service Commission(fn13) and found that section 7-474(g) "exempted from collective bargaining, without exception, all matters pertaining to the conduct and the grading of merit examinations and the subsequent rating of candidates."(fn14) Continuing its reasoning, the Court stated that section 7-474(g)'s principal purpose is to "preserve to the municipality's civil service provisions the realm of the promotional examination process, subject to the limited exception of the collective bargaining process for the identified proposed changes in that process. In the absence of such a proposed change, the entire realm of the promotional examination process remains within the authority of the municipalities' civil service provisions and outside of the collective bargaining process."(fn15)

Thus, "the determination of the qualifications for taking a fire department promotional exam is not a proper subject of a grievance determined under a collective bargaining agreement and is, instead, within the process of conducting merit promotion exams under § 7-474(g)."(fn16) The Court therefore held that the union and the city could not bypass the entire civil service promotional examination process by settling a collective bargaining grievance to effect a promotion. To do so, the Court observed, would violate General Statutes section 7-474(g). Since in this case, there was no proposed change in the promotional examination process, the grievance settlement that resulted in the employee's promotion did not trump the trial court's power to oversee all promotions in the fire department, and the grievance settlement could not stand.

Southern New England Telephone Company v. Shaun B. Cashman, Commissioner of Labor(fn17) was the Supreme Court's lone Connecticut Family Medical Leave Act (CFMLA)(fn18) decision in 2007. The case concerned General Statutes section 31-55pp(c), the section of CFMLA that prohibits employers from denying employees the right to use up to two weeks of employer-provided "accumulated sick leave" for family and medical leave purposes; that is to say not just for their own illnesses, as the employer's policy might provide, but also to care for a seriously ill dependent or for the birth or adoption of the employee's child.(fn19) The question was whether a particular collectively bargained SNET sick leave policy(fn20) provided "accumulated sick leave" within the meaning of this statute. SNET maintained that its policy did not provide "accumulated sick leave," because it did not permit an employee to carry over unused sick leave from year to year or to acquire it gradually on a monthly basis. The defendants argued that the term "accumulated sick leave" means a progressive increase in available paid sick leave which is tied to the employee's seniority. The Court concluded that while both interpretations were plausible, only the defendants was compatible with the broader CFMLA statutory scheme and ruled for the defendants.

The Court began its analysis by noting that CFMLA does not define the word "accumulated" in section 31-5 1pp(c)( 1). To assist it in construing this word in that section, it turned for guidance to another CFMLA section, General Statutes section 31-51 ll(e)(2)(B),(fn21) because that section, like the section in question, permits employees to substitute sick leave for family and medical leave purposes, and further because the "accumulated sick leave" to which section 31-51pp(c)(1) refers appeared to be the same type of sick leave that may be substituted for family medical leave under section 31-51 ll(e)(2)(B).

The Court then observed that this other section does not use the word "accumulated" to describe the sick leave that can be substituted for family medical leave, that instead, in both the title and the implementing regulations, Section 31- 51ll(e)(2)(B) uses the words "accrued" and "earned." The question thus became whether "accrued" and "earned" in that section could be distinguished in any meaningful way from "accumulated" in section 31-5 1pp(c)( 1). The Court ultimately concluded that there was no meaningful distinction, that the legislature used the terms interchangeably. It reached this conclusion because the conclusion was "in accord with the remedial purpose of the family and medical leave law," because "there is no limiting language in the statutory scheme indicating that the legislature intended for employees to be treated differently depending on whether they are able to carry over unused sick leave from one year to another," and because "(i)t simply makes no sense to treat employees who are not able to carry over sick leave from one year to another in a different manner from those who are permitted to do so under the plans adopted by their employers."

Justice Katz, in a well reasoned concurrence, concluded that "accumulated" sick leave under section 31-5 1pp(c)(1) simply means "earned" sick leave. However, she reached that conclusion without making the comparison the Court had made. Instead, she reasoned logically from the language of the section in question(fn22) and by utilizing that section's legislative history to determine that the legislature's actual intent was not "to require employers to provide additional sick leave to employees, but, rather, to allow employees to use what they currently had" as sick leave for family leave purposes. Justice Katz opined that the insertion of the word "accumulated" was intended merely to clarify this point.

The Supreme Court created new protections for Connecticut employers that provide negative employment references to prospective employers. In Miron v. University of New Haven Police...

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