Workers triumph in suit over illegal layoffs

Courage and tenacity have paid off for thousands of Connecticut public employees, whose union membership made them the targets of a coercive, outrageous round of job cuts in 2003 under former Gov. John Rowland. The cuts targeted only union members and sparked a suit against the executive branch—a case resolved more than a decade later when a settlement was reached with the state’s attorney general and the administration of current Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The agreement reached in late April marks a tremendous victory for the nearly 3,000 state employees who risked their jobs to stand up for bedrock freedoms of speech and association rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

In June 2013, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that the former governor, by targeting employees based on their union affiliation, had violated basic rights of association under the U.S. Constitution. This decision overturned a lower court ruling, and the case was remanded to the district court to craft appropriate, equitable relief for the workers.  “Defendants have not shown why the state’s fiscal health required firing only union members, rather than implementing membership-neutral layoffs,” Judge Gerard E. Lynch wrote for the Second Circuit.

AFT Connecticut and affiliates in the state were part of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC), a group of 16 unions, that brought the case on behalf of public employees. SEBAC refused to yield to the governor’s demand for $450 million in concessions in 2002 and sued when Rowland responded by laying off 2,800 workers.

Among those caught up in Rowland’s rampage was Marcelle Pichanick Groves, a member of AFT Local 4200 who, as an analyst with the state Department of Environmental Protection, became a plaintiff in the original lawsuit when she was laid off in 2003.

“Edmund Burke once said, ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,’ [and] I’d like to thank all the good men and women who helped make this possible and saw to it that justice triumphed,” said Groves after the court’s decision this June. Groves, who now works for the state Department of Education, added that, “When John Rowland laid off nearly 3,000 state workers it was a mean, vindictive act.”

In 2004, Rowland was forced to resign over charges that he had accepted bribes. He pled guilty to “depriving the public of honest service” and spent more than 10 months in federal prison.

Public Employee Advocate, Summer 2015 Download PDF (1.28 MB)
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