Is a trend forming in First Amendment free-speech cases in Connecticut? It certainly seems that way.
Last week, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Andrea Charron in her lawsuit against the Town of Griswold. The jury awarded damages in excess of $800,000 (not including punitive damages and attorneys fees).
At trial, Superior Court Judge M. Susan Peck had to balance the city’s interest in having an efficient workplace with Charron’s right to speak out on a matter of public importance. Griswold contended that Charron was legally dismissed in order to preserve tranquility and efficiency in town hall because Charron was not getting along with [the First Selectman].
What’s interesting about this case as well is that the town voted to reject a $50,000 settlement proposal last month on the eve of trial by a vote of 9-8. It’s a perfect example of what I mentioned last week: when employers lose cases after rejecting settlement demands, the verdicts can be quite large.
For employers with free-speech claims under Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-51q or federal First Amendment claims, these recent verdicts show the risky nature of such claims.