Employees in Connecticut will enjoy greater free speech protections following Trusz v. UBS Realty Investors, LLC, a Connecticut Supreme Court decision released Monday.
The court ruled in favor of Richard Trusz, an employee who was fired by a real estate company after he reported business errors to the company’s high-level administrators. The judges wrote that Connecticut freedom of speech laws protected Trusz and that the company, UBS Realty Investors, should not have fired him, Connecticut American Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Dan Barrett explained. According to Barrett, the ruling is significant because it clearly names the standards that protect Connecticut employees who report their employers from labor discrimination. Unlike federal statutes that protect employees from retaliation only under certain cases, the Connecticut Supreme Court decision guarantees generally broader protection, Barrett said.
“There are individual federal statutes kind of within a patch and quilt,” Barrett said. “Some of them have anti-retaliation, but you have to be engaged in an activity the statute protects … [Today’s ruling] is a much more general protection than the retaliation protected under each specific federal statute.”
Barrett added that the court’s ruling reversed an almost decade-long trend of Connecticut workers losing free speech protections. The pattern began after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2006 ruling in Garcetti v. Ceballos, when the court decreed that federal free speech statutes do not protect a worker’s speech if it relates to his or her profession, Barrett said. For years, employee attorneys in Connecticut were unsure whether the Court’s decision in Garcetti applied to cases in the Connecticut state court, he added.
The judges began the opinion with the question of whether Garcetti overruled Connecticut statutes in state cases dealing with workers’ rights. The judges finally ruled in favor of Connecticut statues.
In their opinion written for Trusz v. UBS Realty Investors LLC, the judges established that in state cases, Connecticut laws will take precedence over the Garcetti v. Ceballos ruling.
Andre Manuel ’16, the former chair of Yale’s undergraduate ACLU chapter, said he believes the opinion rightfully respects employees’ First Amendment rights in cases where employees possess information relevant to the public good. Manuel added that the decision will help employees feel safer when reporting employers that engage in illegal or harmful behavior.
Kerry Burke-McCloud ’17, who interned with a law firm and the public defender’s office in Jacksonville, Florida, said these developments are a clear victory for employees.
“I think this is a great win,” Burke-McCloud said. “Most companies have one goal, that is to make a profit.”
Barrett said New Haven’s size and commerce makes the case relevant for many of the Elm City’s employers and employees.
The ACLU was founded in 1920.