It’s been several years since employers had some decisions to cheer about at the Connecticut Supreme Court. But yesterday, the court released two important decisions that will likely rank as among the most significant the court has issued in the employment context in the last decade.
I represented the employer in one of those cases, which you can download here; I’ll address that decision, which overturned a $10 million jury verdict, in a separate upcoming post when I’m able.
Today, I’ll address one portion of the court’s decision in the other case, Perez-Dickson v. City of Bridgeport (download here). In an unanimous decision, the court reversed the $2 million jury verdict in favor of the employee and entered judgment for the employer.
One question the court had to answer was whether a state statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. 17a-101e, created a private cause of action to the employee. That statute prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee who makes a child abuse report as a “mandated reporter.”
The court concluded that there is no private cause of action by the employee. Only the Attorney General is entitled to bring a claim on behalf of the employee.
The court disposes of this claim relatively easy (and leaves open the question as to how the trial court let this claim proceed).
Both the contours of the right created by § 17a-101e and the specific remedy for a violation of the right are plain and unambiguous. Nothing in the text of the statute even remotely suggests that, contrary to this plain and unambiguous language, the legislature intended to authorize private citizens to bring actions on their own behalf pursuant to the statute. Indeed, the plaintiff does not contend otherwise. Rather, she claims only that the defendants’ claim that § 17a-101e does not create a private cause of action is unreviewable, a claim that we have rejected. Accordingly, we conclude that §17a-101e does not provide a private cause of action and that the trial court therefore lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claim pursuant to that statute.
For employers, this ruling should narrow the types of claims that can be brought against employers and should give them some breathing room on the potential retaliation claims that could arise from having to discipline a mandated reporter, particularly on reasons unrelated to the report.
The decision also addresses the burden of proof in discrimination cases and First Amendment issues as well. In particular, the court looked at whether Garcetti v. Ceballos prohibited the employee’s claims. Look for more posts this week on these other aspects.