Free Speech in Workplace Has Limits

In one of the most significant employment law cases decided by the Connecticut Supreme Court in recent years, the Court unanimously ruled earlier this month that an employee’s free speech rights in the private workplace do not extend to speech pursuant to his job duties.  Those rights do not cover insubordinate behavior either. In doing so, the Court reversed the jury verdict to the employee of approximately $10 million.

I typically don’t write about cases that I’ve handled, but given the importance of this case, the client, LabCorp, has approved an exception. My public thanks to them for allowing me to share this important case with you. (I first alerted you to the case in this post.)

The case, Schumann v. Dianon, can be downloaded here.  You can read the basic facts there but the case concerned a laboratory doctor who refused to use certain diagnostic codes for lab tests that were being performed and claimed that it would affect patient safety.   He brought a claim under Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-51q which purports to apply First Amendment protection to Connecticut employers. (You can view additional articles about the case here, here and here.)

A few years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Garcetti v. Ceballos, that when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, such speech is not protected by the First Amendment. Because the First Amendment typically applies to public employers, the issue in the Schumann case was whether the Garcetti rule applied to actions brought against private employers in Connecticut. A state statute, Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-51q and prior caselaw has applied First Amendment protections to both public and private employers.


Continue Reading Conn. Supreme Court Rejects $10M Verdict; Insubordination is Not Protected Speech