Sharon Palmer, the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Labor, will retire at the end of this year, news that was first reported by the CT Mirror website.

According to CT Mirror:

In an interview, she described her decision to retire as driven by age and circumstance, not politics or a consequence of overseeing the Department of Labor at a difficult juncture. She laughed and added, however, “It’s tired me out, that’s for sure.”

Governor Dannel Malloy issued a press release announcing the retirement and commending the service of Commissioner Palmer:

Governor Dannel P. Malloy today announced that Connecticut Department of Labor Commissioner Sharon M. Palmer has opted to retire from the agency at the end of this year.  Commissioner Palmer began her position as the head of the department in August 2012 and was reappointed earlier this year when the Governor began his second term in office.

“I have always known Sharon to be an advocate for helping others, and have been impressed with her focus on workforce and education issues in our state, because both create good jobs and deliver a strong economy for Connecticut,” Governor Malloy said.  “Under Sharon’s tenure, many successful employment programs and services were developed and launched. I thank her for her unwavering dedication and her service.”

While Palmer’s background was as a teachers’ union president and AFL-CIO offer, her tenure at the CTDOL was marked by the lack of any major new department worker initiatives similar to those announced on a federal level. Instead, the Department has continued to focus on grants and training programs.

Indeed, while the press release says that the department “ramped up efforts to fight misclassification” of workers as independent contractors, we haven’t seen nearly the same publicity or efforts that have been attached to the United States Department of Labor activities.

Malloy said that a search for her successor begins now and presumably one will be named before Palmer’s departure.

Over the last week, two unrelated stories caught my eye.  For employers, they are a reminder that claims of pay inequality based on gender are still something to be concerned about. 

Photo Courtesy Library of Congress c. 1943

The first story is that Governor Malloy announced plans for a new study to examine “factors that contribute to the gender wage gap in Connecticut’s workforce.” 

The study will be run by  new Connecticut Department of Labor Commissioner Sharon Palmer and Department of Economic Development Commissioner Catherine Smith.  The Governor has asked the commissioners to make recommendations on the issue by October 2013.   

I’ve talked about this issue before; there are some who believe that the wage gap is overstated.  But the study will make headlines this year and this renewed focus in Connecticut on the issue should have employers revisiting their own practices.

The second story illustrates the claim in much more real world terms and shows the perils of trying to navigate your way through such claims. 

In Morse v. Pratt & Whitney, decided last week, a federal court — among other issues — denied an employer’s motion for summary judgment on an Title VII unequal pay claim.

Continue Reading Gender Inequality Claims Make Headlines in Case and in New Study

UPDATED:

The cuts to the CHRO keep coming.

Governor Malloy this morning released his plan to reduce the size of government — should a deal with the state labor unions not be struck.

The plan calls for the elimination of the CHRO’s Waterbury Office (page 35) and the elimination of other staff positions.  All told, 23 positions would be cut at the CHRO.

The Judicial Branch’s plans are also coming later today; advance word is that several courthouses will be closed.

The Judicial Branch will undergo deep cuts too, including the closing of several courthouses and the elimination of various assistant clerk and paralegal positions.  You can view the entire report here. Funding for the Connecticut Bar Foundation – cut. Six law libraries – gone. Oh, and watercoolers will be eliminated too (page 15)

Unless a new deal is reached, employers and their attorneys (as well as others in the system) will start seeing the impact of these reductions late this summer and early this fall.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, earlier this month Governor Malloy signed the new Paid Sick Leave and the new Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination bills.

With the Governor’s approval, the paid sick leave bill now becomes effective January 1, 2012.

The anti-discrimination provisions of the gender identity bill are effective October 1, 2011.

For more on the impact of these bills on employers, see prior posts here and here.

 

Imagine there’s no …..

A few years ago it would have been unfathomable to be considering life in Connecticut without a Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.  After all, it is a necessary step in filing a discrimination complaint in this state.

Imagining a Connecticut without the CHRO? No way.

But suddenly, dramatically, here we are.   With the union concession package widely expected to be voted down later Friday morning, we’re into uncharted territory.  And, there are a lot of questions still to be answered.

First, will Governor Malloy actually shut down the agency? That’s unknown, though closing it down was among the various list of cuts proposed back in May. Resulting savings are over $6M.  Pure speculation among lawyers at the CBA Annual Meeting yesterday about whether that would happen was split, though some type of cuts to the agency would certainly seem likely.

Shutting down the agency would be relatively easy compared to what might happen afterwards, though.

For example, what will happen to existing claims at the CHRO? Presumably, the legislature would have to enact legislation that immediately provides those individuals with a “right to sue” in state court.  Some coordination would need to be planned, though, with the EEOC since every claim filed at the CHRO is typically cross-filed with that agency.  Will the EEOC pick up investigating some claims? Given their budget issues, that appears unlikely as well.

Next question: What happens to the statute of limitations? After all, in order for state discrimination claims to proceed, a complainant must file a CHRO complaint within 180 days.  When there’s no complaint to be filed, what happens next? Again, we’ll have to await word from the General Assembly.

But while some have previously called for the elimination of the CHRO, be careful for what may happen next, which is filing of many more lawsuits against employers that would otherwise have been handled by the agency.  Indeed, if all those cases went to court, you could see an 5-8 percent rise in the number of cases in our court system.  On the flip side, the courts are likely to be so overwhelmed with new claims with diminishing resources, that cases may drag on and on there.

What’s the Takeaway for Employers?

The budget battle may hit home in unexpected ways.  Keep up with the developments surrounding the CHRO and stay tuned to see if there are going to be any other cuts to relevant state agencies such as the Department of Labor.

It’s not just job cuts that we are likely to see, but programs and services being eliminated too.

Imagine a world without the CHRO? Ready, Set, …….


Governor Malloy released his anticipated budget and the changes to the Department of Labor are modest.  You can view the whole report (and the DOL portion beginning at 193) here. 

Rather than dissect the whole thing, here are a few things that caught my eye:

  • The DOL’s Unemployment Insurance Division is big. Very big. And getting bigger with over 400 workers, an increase of nearly 10 percent this year.  That size is expected to remain for the next two years. 
  • By comparison, some of the other divisions have vacancy rates, meaning that these areas are making do with far less than they have requested or had. 
  • The Wage & Workforce Standards Division has a lot of complaints or requests — nearly 26,000 last year. But that number is projected to increase very modestly over the next two years.
  • At the same time, there are just 34 employees there (with 2 vacancies).  It’s not too hard to figure out the ratio of workers and complaints.
  • In a similar fashion, the Connecticut version of OSHA has just 23 employees.
  • But workplace inspections as well as violations are projected to increase. How? Presumably, more enforcement proceedings brought by the state.

It’s still much too early to tell whether this budget will be trimmed in areas like this.  But at least the Department projections give us some insights into what a department might look like in the next few years and where they anticipate their focus will be. 

Can a union president and a former HR Director work together effectively? 

We’ll soon find out at the Connecticut Department of Labor.

Governor Dannel Malloy this afternoon selected Glenn Marshall to serve as the new commissioner of the Department of Labor, and picked Dennis Murphy as the agency’s new deputy commissioner.

In a press release issued today, the Govenor describes the background of both:

Marshall, of Milford, is currently the president of Carpenters Union Local 210, where he led advocacy efforts on behalf of a construction labor force, including working closely on state legislative and administrative matters that impact the construction industry and the economy of Connecticut. In this position, he gained recognized respect as a leader who has worked well with both organized labor and Connecticut businesses.

Murphy, of Bridgeport, is a Neutral Labor Arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association, FINRA and the ADR Center, Inc. He previously served as the Director of Human Resources for the City of Stamford from 2004-2008, and was the Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Bridgeport from 1994-2002.

In making such an appointment, Gov. Malloy was quick to emphasize that he does not expect the department to be pro-union or pro-business:

In order to run the Labor Department, it is important to have someone who can work effectively as a consensus builder.  I strongly reject the premise that you have to be either pro-labor or pro-business – you have to be both. There is no doubt that in these tough economic times we need to have a responsible approach to decision making and an ability to work with broad-based coalitions. Glenn and Dennis – both of whom I have known for years – will take their respective experiences and put them to work at the Department of Labor, finding new and unique ways to ensure our state’s labor force is protected, and our state’s business community thrives.

With budget issues looming, it is quite possible that the department will be asked to do more with less. It is not an enviable task in this environment.  Addressing unemployment compensation claims will no doubt take up some time, but hopefully, other areas of the department can receive some focus as well.

What Does This Mean for Employers?

At this stage, I would encourage everyone to reserve judgment on the appointments.  By making both appointments at the same time, the Governor seems to be reinforcing his message that he wants his administration to be viewed as a business-friendly one, and not merely a pro-labor one. 

The CT Mirror had this story with additional background as well. 

In the meantime, it is best to wish both of them well in this new endeavor. And a little luck too. 

(Note: Dennis Murphy is the spouse of a partner at Pullman & Comley)

There’s been plenty written about what the impact of the federal elections will be on national legislative efforts.  While at an ABA Conference last week, various legislative initiatives concerning independent contractors and the Employee Free Choice Act were now seen as as DOA.

But in Connecticut, we elected the first Democrat as Governor in over two decades. What might that mean for employers?

Frankly with a projected budget deficit of over $3 billion (out of a total budget of $19 billion), it’s really early to make any blanket forecasts. Governor-Elect Malloy, on Colin McEnroe’s WNPR show yesterday described himself as a "fiscal conservative".  Will that translate to him refusing to support initiatives that may cost the state (or employers) more money at a time when things are cash-strapped? That’s unclear.

One legislative item that seems to be up for serious discussion, however, is mandatory paid sick leave.  Malloy has voiced his strong support for the proposal during the campaign.  Back in February, he released this statement:

Providing paid sick days to employees isn’t just the right and fair thing to do, it’s also good public policy…Connecticut has tens of thousands of employees who work in food service and healthcare. Allowing those sick workers time to recuperate benefits the entire population. Additionally, allowing workers to take time to seek early treatment also means fewer trips to the emergency room for untreated illness – saving the state money.

It’s not anti-business. It’s smart public policy, and it’s the right thing to do.”

The votes have seemed to be there in the past.  Republicans in the Connecticut General Assembly, however, will attempt to block its passage but admitted this week that they face an uphill battle in convincing the public and fellow legislators.  Expect to see this on the legislative agenda when the session starts again in early 2011.

Malloy’s website also indicates that he supports workforce training initiatives that should benefit employers and workers alike. It’ll be interesting to see what bills are developed as a result of that policy.

Other bills that could see renewed enthusiasm cover topics such as workplace bullying and gender identity discrimination. 

The upcoming legislative season promises to be among the more interesting ones we’ve seen lately. Stay tuned. 

(Photo Courtesy of 2009 Mayors’ Conference)

At last night’s gubernatorial debate, the issue of potential layoffs of state union workers was a hot topic of conversation.  (See CT News Junkie for a more detailed report.) Each candidate indicated that layoffs weren’t ruled out if elected.  

That’s all very well and good, but none of them have mentioned how a prior layoff (from a governor who allegedly tried to seek long-term concessions from the unions) has led to a seven-and-a-half year battle between the state (actually, the governor & the chief of the office of policy and management) and State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC). And the outcome of that case is likely to determine the path that the next governor will be able to take under similar financial circumstances. 

What’s that case about?  It has a long and tortured history, but each side has now filed motions for summary judgment (in whole or in part) that try to summarize it.  According to the unions (the summary judgment memo can be downloaded here):

The case involves the constitutionality of an attempt by Connecticut’s former Governor to compel the plaintiff unions to grant long-term concessions to their legislatively-approved collective bargaining agreements by threaten to terminate the employment of union members if the concessions were not granted and by implementing the terminations, through layoffs of 2800 union employees, when the unions refused to agree to all of the demanded contract modifications.

Defendants assert that it is constitutionally permissible for them to terminate union employment in an effort to compel demanded concessions.  Defendants further contend that in making state work force determinations, it is constitutionally permissible for them to single out union employees for layoff.  Plaintiffs submit that such conduct violates their First Amendment right to freedom of association; impermissibly conditions their right to continued public employment on giving up protected First Amendment and Contracts Clause rights; and subjects them to adverse state action based on an arbitrary and impermissible classification, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.  

According to the state (summary judgment memo available here):

"The First Amendment is not a substitute for the national labor relations laws…(citation omitted) Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s admonition, the Plaintiffs … seek to transform a labor dispute with the State of Connecticut (the "State") into a First Amendment "retaliation" case.  The labor dispute arose amidst a major budget crisis in 2002-2003, when the State sought concessions from the Plaintiffs. When the Plaintiffs refused to agree to the State’s demands, the state laid off approximately 2800 state employees.  …

[M]assive budget deficits have forced the State’s governors to make extraordinarily difficult decisions about the size and cost of the State work force as part of their constitutional obligation…[T]he Court should reject the Plaintiff’s attempt to ‘constitutionalize’ their labor dispute with the State.  

(Full disclosure: For 2003-2005, I was part of a team of attorneys on this matter representing the state while I was at a prior law firm.)

Just two weeks ago, each party filed briefs opposing the others’ summary judgment motions. The union’s memo is available here, while the state’s is available here.  

Notably, a decision is not expected in that case until well after the November elections. But one thing is for sure: The outcome of the case may dictate how much (or little) flexibility the next governor will have on layoffs. Indeed, ironically, the new governor will have to deal with any fallout from the years-old lawsuit.

In any event, the case should serve as a cautionary tale. Even the layoffs that do occur can lead to years of litigation and no assurances of the end result. It’s something that the candidates should keep in mind as they devise their strategies for balancing the budget.