Public Policy Discharge

March, 2021



A recent ruling from the Connecticut Appellate Court reinstated a paralegal’s claim of wrongful termination in violation of public policy against her former employer, a law firm.  Helen Sieranski v. TJC Esq., A Professional Services Corporation, 203 Conn.App. 75 (2021).

The plaintiff worked as a litigation paralegal and reported to Attorney Brooke Goff.  On or about March 23, 2017, Attorney Goff realized that they had missed the time to appeal an arbitrator’s decision on a case and asked the plaintiff to prepare an affidavit stating that they “had never received the arbitrator’s decision,” which was not true.

The plaintiff drafted the affidavit but refused to notarize it because she knew it was false.  She continued to refuse to sign the affidavit and on March 31, 2017, she was terminated.  The defendant stated that the plaintiff was fired because she “was not a good fit.”

In her complaint before the trial court, the plaintiff claimed that in her refusing to notarize a false affidavit she was terminated in violation of long-standing public policy considerations contained in Connecticut statute CGS 53a-157b, regarding prohibition against making false statements to mislead a public servant under oath and 3-94h, stating that a notary public shall not perform any official action with an intent to deceive or defraud.

The trial court granted the defendant’s motion to strike that claim.

On appeal, the Appellate Court discussed the public policy discharge doctrine, which originated in 1980, Sheets v. Teddy’s Frosted Foods, Inc., 179 Conn. 471 (1980).  This cause of action is an exception to the at-will employment doctrine where an employee alleges a “demonstrably improper reason for dismissal, a reason whose impropriety is derived from some important violation of public policy.”  Id., 475.

It is important to note that in invoking the public policy discharge claim, a plaintiff must point to clearly articulated public policy contained in statutes or regulations.

The Appellate Court reversed the judgment of the trial court with respect to striking this count of the plaintiff’s complaint.

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