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Marcello v. Currey

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 11, 2019

GIOVANNA MARCELLO et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MELODY A. CURREY et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge

         The Constitution protects the right of the people to equal protection of the laws. This case involves a challenge by Connecticut state employees to a state personnel policy that gave more generous salary benefits to state employees who would be promoted to supervisor positions in the future than to state employees who had already been promoted to the same type of supervisor positions. Because I conclude that there are rational reasons for the State to award more generous salary benefits prospectively only, I conclude that the State's policy does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Accordingly, I will grant defendants' motion to dismiss this case.

         Background

          I assume the following facts to be true as alleged in the complaint. Doc. #1. The plaintiffs are six employees of the Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS). In 2013, there arose a need for DSS to fill numerous vacant supervisory positions at its district offices. To fill these vacancies, DSS offered to plaintiffs and other current DSS employees an opportunity for a temporary promotion to these supervisory positions. DSS did so in accordance with a state employment policy known as the Temporary Service in a Higher Classification (“TSHC”) program.

         All six of the plaintiffs accepted temporary promotions on various dates in November and December 2013. They continued in these positions until each of them were offered and accepted a permanent appointment to these supervisor positions on various dates from May 2015 to February 2017.

         While the plaintiffs were serving as temporary supervisors, they received compensation for the higher-lever supervisor pay, and each year they received annual step increases for their higher-level positions. But then when they ended up accepting permanent appointments to their supervisor positions, DSS reverted their compensation to the pay grade that they had received when they were first temporarily promoted to the supervisor positions. This wiped out the annual pay step increments that plaintiffs had received while working as temporary supervisors and resulted in plaintiffs starting their permanent supervisor positions at the same initial step pay grade that was effective when they had been temporarily promoted in 2013.

         The State eventually changed this salary policy. On March 13, 2017, after the plaintiffs had already been appointed to their permanent positions, the head of Connecticut's Department of Administrative Services (DAS) issued an administrative letter that changed the terms of the TSHC program. Doc. #1 at 14-17. Under the terms of the new policy for the TSHC program, state employees who were henceforth promoted from temporary supervisor positions to permanent supervisor positions would now receive the benefit of the compensation rate that they had received and accumulated while serving as temporary supervisors.

         This new policy did not apply retroactively. That is, instead of applying this new salary policy to TSHC participants like plaintiffs who had been promoted to permanent positions before March 13, 2017, the new policy applied only to TSHC employees who received their permanent positions after the date of the new policy's issuance on March 13, 2017. According to plaintiffs, as a result of not receiving the benefits of the State's new policy, they each suffer a loss of between $8, 000 to $12, 000 in annual salary.

         Plaintiffs have filed this federal lawsuit against the commissioners of the DSS and DAS claiming a violation of their right to equal protection of the laws under the Constitution. Because they were promoted through the TSHC program to permanent supervisor positions before March 13, 2017, they were all subject to what I will refer to as the “Old Policy”-a reversion of their salaries upon their appointment to a permanent supervisor position to the same initial step pay grade that had applied to them in 2013 when they were temporarily promoted. Plaintiffs claim that they are similarly situated to other employees who also participated in the TSHC program but who happened to be promoted to permanent supervisor positions after March 13, 2017. These other employees were subject to the benefit of what I will call the “New Policy”-a retention of their salary step increases that they had accumulated while working as temporary supervisors.

         Plaintiffs complain that the failure to apply the New Policy retroactively to them is arbitrary and not supported by any rational reason in violation of the Equal Protection Clause to the Constitution. Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint.

         Discussion

          The Fourteenth Amendment provides in relevant part that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. As the Supreme Court has recognized, “most laws differentiate in some fashion between classes of persons, ” and “[t]he Equal Protection Clause does not forbid classifications, ” but “simply keeps governmental decisionmakers from treating differently persons who are in all relevant respects alike.” Nordlinger v. Hahn, 505 U.S. 1, 10 (1992).

         Equal protection cases generally fall into one of two categories. If the governmental distinction targets a suspect class (such as a class of persons based on race, gender, or religion) or targets the exercise of a fundamental right (such as the right to vote), then the governmental classification will be subject to heightened or strict scrutiny. All other governmental classifications need only be supported by a rational basis. See ibid.; Winston v. City of Syracuse, 887 F.3d 553, 560 (2d Cir. 2018).

         Because there is no claim in this case that the challenged salary policy burdens a suspect class or a fundamental right, my task is a limited one. I must first evaluate whether the State has subjected plaintiffs to treatment that is different from others who are similarly situated and, if so, determine whether there is a rational basis for the ...


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