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EMPLOYMENT AND LABOR NEWS
Mickey Busca, Editor

CT Statute 31-55bb

August, 2018

 

CT Supreme Court Rules Collective Bargaining Employees

Can File Both A Grievance and A State Agency Claim For Same Issue

      In a case released July 3, 2018, the Connecticut Supreme Court expanded the interpretation of a statute which allows an employee to pursue a statutory cause of action even though the claim was previously raised and decided by a collective bargaining grievance.  Williams v. City of New Haven, 329 Conn. 366 (2018).

Connecticut General Statute Section 31-55bb states, in relevant part, “No employee shall be denied the right to pursue, in a court of competent jurisdiction, a cause of action arising under … a state statute solely because that employee is covered by a collective bargaining agreement.”

In Williams, the City of New Haven appealed the decision of the Compensation Review Board (Workers’ Compensation Commission) denying its motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim, under 31-290a, that he had been wrongfully discharged in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim.

At the same time, Williams filed a grievance with his union claiming that he was fired without just cause.  The grievance was submitted to arbitration before the Connecticut Board of Mediation and Arbitration.  The arbitration panel ruled against him by determining that the City had just cause to terminate the plaintiff.  The City had claimed workers’ compensation fraud.

Before the Supreme Court, the City maintained that 31-55bb did not apply because the language of the statute permits statutory causes of action to be pursued “in a court of competent jurisdiction” and Williams had filed his claim under 31-290a with the Workers’ Compensation Commission rather than the Connecticut Superior Court.

In denying its appeal of the motion to dismiss, the Court held that the language and legislative history of the statute did not indicate an intent to limit such claims only to the Superior Court.

The Court stated that the language of the statute, “in a court of competent jurisdiction” was ambiguous.  The Court held that those employees covered by a collective bargaining contract would have the same rights under the statute as those without such a contract.

“In other words, these remarks [legislative history] support the conclusion that 31-51bb was intended to ensure that, when there is a generally available statutory or constitutional cause of action or remedy, such [collective bargaining] employees would have the same right to pursue that cause of action or to invoke that remedy as employees not covered by a collective bargaining agreement.”

Therefore, the Court expanded the meaning of this statute to allow collective bargaining employee to pursue a statutory cause of action before a state agency or the Superior Court, regardless if that employee has filed a grievance with her union over the same issue, i.e. wrongful discharge, and lost the grievance in arbitration.

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