In a decision that will be officially released on Tuesday, the Connecticut Appellate Court has upheld the dismissal of a wrongful discharge claim against Marvelwood School, an independent school in Kent, Connecticut. In doing so, the Court turned back an attempt to limit the employment-at-will doctrine and provided employers in Connecticut with reassurance that wrongful discharge claims will be appropriately limited.

The case, Zweig v. Marvelwood School, can be viewed here.

(An upfront disclosure: My firm represented the employer here and I represented the school on the successful appeal.) 

The facts of the case are relatively straightforward and are summarized in the court’s decision. The plaintiff Aaron Zweig was employed by the defendant Marvelwood School as a history teacher and school’s Director of Food Studies. That role required him to establish and maintain a garden on campus and use it to teach a class on food studies.

In May, 2015, Mr. Zweig allegedly objected to the school’s suggestion that telephone poles that had been treated with creosote, a pesticide and wood preservative, be used to make raised beds in the garden because he believed that the chemical posed a health risk to himself and his students.


Continue Reading Connecticut Appellate Court Rejects Challenge to At-Will Employment Doctrine

In a post from earlier this week , I indicated that a new Appellate Court decision had some interesting points on wrongful discharge claim that were worth exploring. At the same time, the U.S. Supreme Court released a FMLA decision that made a few headlines.

But what I didn’t mention was this: the takeaways from these cases are something only your company’s lawyer is going to love.

First, the Supreme Court case (Coleman v. State of Maryland).  It answered the “burning” question of whether public employees could sue under the “self-care” provisions of the FMLA. 

Not that many of us were asking the question in the first place. 
Continue Reading Decisions Only Your In-House Lawyer Could Love

An employee who contended that he was fired after complaining about a physically threatening co-worker cannot bring a wrongful discharge claim, in a decision released by the Connecticut District Court.  The case, Ferrer v. T.L. Cannon Management Corp. (download here), does suggest, however, a way for employees to bring such claims in the future — with some artful language in the complaint. 

Readers of this blog will be aware  that Connecticut is an at-will employment state, absent some contractual promises or some other exception that may apply. In general terms, that means is that an employee can quit any time for any reason and that an employer can fire the employee at any time for any reason (so long as it’s not an illegal one such as race, gender, etc.) 

Two Connecticut Supreme Court cases are required reading for this concept: Sheets v. Teddy’s Frosted Food, Inc. 179 Conn. 471, 427 A.2d 385 (1980), and Parsons v. United Technologies Corp. 243. Conn. 66, 89, 700 A.2d 655 (1997).  [Disclosure: I worked on the Parsons matter.] 

Those cases created a notable exception to the at will standard:

  • In Sheets, the Court held that an at-will employee may sue for wrongful discharge if he is fired for complaining about, or refusing to participate in, his employer’s violation of public policy.
  • In Parsons, the Court ruled that the public policy embodied in the state statute requiring employers “to exercise reasonable care to provide for [their] servants a reasonably safe place in which to work,” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31- 49, provides grounds for a wrongful discharge claim when an atwill employee is fired for refusing to work in conditions posing
    an “objectively substantial risk of death, disease or serious bodily injury.”

So, in the Ferrer case, the District Court was asked to extend the Parsons exception to a situation where the employee was allegedly discharged after informing his manager that a co-worker threw a punch at him and missed. The complaint also alleged that the co-worker assaulted another employee about a year earlier.


Continue Reading Court Examines The Parameters of the Public Policy Requiring Employers to Provide a Reasonably Safe Workplace