I’ve talked previously about how there are two sets of laws in Connecticut regarding claims arising from termination. There is the law arising from statutes – like the one I discussed this week– and then there is the common law that recognizes a “wrongful discharge”.
“Wrongful Discharge” claims were recognized by our state Supreme Court decades ago. Those are claims that arise when the dismissal would violate an “important public policy” that relates to an explicit statutory or constitutional provision. This can be things like keeping food safe.
It’s designed to catch claims that might otherwise fall between the cracks in areas that the legislature has otherwise seen fit to talk about.
Earlier this week, the Connecticut Appellate Court added a chapter to the “wrongful discharge” caselaw in the case of Sieranski v. TJC ESQ (which you can download here) by allowing a former paralegal to proceed on her claim against her former employer, a lawfirm.
In the case, the paralegal reported to Attorney Brooke Goff. According to the allegations (and remember — these are only allegations), the attorney realized that they had missed a deadline for a time to appeal and asked the paralegal to prepare an affidavit saying that they had never received the decision — a fact that was untrue. The paralegal prepared it but refused to notarize it. A week later, the paralegal’s employment was terminated because “she was not a good fit”, according to the complaint.
The lower court dismissed the claim but the Appellate Court reinstated it.
The paralegal cited the public policy present in Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 53a-157b which she argued outlines a general policy against making false statements with the intent to deceive. The employer raised several arguments including that the complaint failed to allege any “affirmative conduct” that would satisfy the elements of the claim.
The Appellate Court disagreed, finding:
Here, contrary to the defendant’s assertion, the allegations, when read as a whole, reasonably can be interpreted to allege that Attorney Goff knew that the statements that she directed the plaintiff to include in the affidavit were false. … [The Complaint] reasonably may be interpreted to allege that Attorney Goff knew that she, in fact, had received the arbitrator’s decision and did not file a timely appeal within the statutory appeal period, and that she wanted the plaintiff to draft a false affidavit that said otherwise
The Court also looked at another statute as well regarding the notarization of documents. Taken together, these statutes, the court said, “outline a public policy against knowingly assisting an affiant in submitting false statements to a court”. In other words, this situation is one where “the defendant allegedly punished the plaintiff for her conduct as a good citizen”.
The case is a notable reminder that employment law claims don’t just arise from the statutes, but can arise from wrongful discharge claims too. Asking employees (again, allegedly) to do something illegal and firing them (again, allegedly) when they refuse to do it, is likely to fall within this category from time to time.