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State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition v. Rowland

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

October 12, 2016

STATE EMPLOYEES BARGAINING AGENT COALITION, ET AL
v.
JOHN G. ROWLAND, ET AL

          RULING

          HOLLY B. FITZSIMMONS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         A. Procedural History

         This action was commenced pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, in February 2003, by the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (“SEBAC”), a collation of 13 public employee unions that represent approximately 49, 000 Connecticut state employees; 12 of SEBAC's 13 constituent labor unions; and five individual union members. The Amended Complaint asserted claims against then-Governor of the State of Connecticut John G. Rowland, and the then-Secretary of Connecticut's Office of Policy and Management Mark S. Ryan, in both their official and individual capacities. It alleged that defendants had intentionally violated plaintiffs' constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process and equal protection of the law under the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by ordering that 3, 000 union members be terminated from their jobs in retaliation for the unions' exercise of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of association and freedom of speech and the unions' refusal to forego certain statutorily protected contract rights. Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint sough declaratory and injunctive relief and money damages. Years of litigation ensued. In December 2013, the parties pursued settlement discussions resulting in the settlement of the case.

         A Settlement Order and Final Judgment was entered by the Court (Covello, J.) on October 1, 2015. [Doc. #296]. The Settlement Agreement provided for both noneconomic compensatory damages to all members of the class and economic damages to class members who sustained economic damages resulting from the subject layoffs. To date, noneconomic compensatory damage awards have been paid to virtually all of the over 49, 000 class members and the parties are now engaged in the process of calculating economic damages for nearly 3, 000 class members who may be entitled to them. The parties are currently scheduling evidentiary hearings, beginning in October 2016, to determine economic damages.

         B. Four Issues

         In advance of the evidentiary hearing, the parties seek the Court's consideration of the following four issues.

         1. The Meaning of the Term “As of November 17, 2002”

         The first question presented is whether an individual had to be employed by the State on November 17, 2002, in order to be a class member. The parties identified only two employees, Linda Almquist and DeBree Robinson, who were offered employment prior to November 17, 2002, but began working for the state shortly after that date. Both employees were laid off in January 2003.

         The Settlement Agreement contains a definition of the term “Class Members”, which includes five subclasses. Each description of a subclass begins with the phrase, “[a]ll individuals who were employees of the State of Connecticut as of November 17, 2002 ....” The Settlement Order and Final Judgment Approving Settlement defines the class in identical terms. [Settl. Agreement §2 (D)(a)-(e); Doc. #296, ¶3(a)-(e)]. Likewise, the plaintiffs' Amended Complaint at page 8 specifically alleges that the affected employee class “consists of all individual a) who were employees of the State of Connecticut as of November 17, 2002 ....” [Doc. #52-1 at 8].

         Plaintiffs argue that

November 17, 2002 was the first date Governor Rowland made any public mention of demanding concessions from the unions and of threatening layoffs if the concessions were not granted. No state employee actually suffered any adverse employment action on November 17, 2002-layoff notices did not actually go out on November 17, 2002 and no state employee was laid off, bumped or demoted, or suffered other adverse job impact on November 17, 2002 (which was a Sunday).
Plaintiffs submit that the State's contention that only individuals employed “as of” November 17, 2002 are covered by the settlement-while a literally feasible interpretation of the Settlement Order and Judgment-makes no practical sense. The purpose of the settlement is to compensate union members for their economic loss resulting from the layoff orders, and there is no rational basis to provide relief for some and exclude others who were adversely affected by layoff orders.

         [Pl. Let. dated 7/5/16 at §1]. Plaintiffs argue that, “[i]t is the fact of the adverse action taken against the employee pursuant to Governor Rowland's orders-not the date the employee first entered into state employment-that is the determinative fact for class membership purposes.” Id.

         Defendants argue that the only rational interpretation of the term “as of November 17, 2002” is that an employee must have been employed by the state on that date in order to be included in the class.

         The letter offering employment to Ms. Almquist was dated November 14, 2002, providing a start date of November 18, 2002. The offer letter was signed and accepted by her on November 18, 2002, with an “effective” date November 18, 2002. See Trainor Let. 11/14/02. Ms. Almquist was laid off on January 28, 2003.

         The offer letter to Ms. Robinson was dated November 15, 2002, providing a start date of November 20, 2002. See Bunt Let. 11/15/02. A payroll services record for Ms. Robinson shows that she was laid-off on January 17, 2003. See UC-61.[1] These are the only two employees ...


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