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A New Haven, Connecticut, city worker who claims he was fired for filing a workers compensation claim can pursue his case even though an arbitrator did not find that he was wrongly terminated when the employee’s union officials pursued a separate complaint, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
Simon Williams was employed in the city’s refuse department from 1993 until his employment was terminated in 2012. This, following a neck, shoulder and back injury in early 2011 that caused him to be out of work for more than a year, according to documents in Simon Williams v. City of New Haven et al.
Mr. Williams was assigned to light duty, which he claimed came with hours that interfered with his second job, which his doctor testified was unnecessary as he could fully function in his normal duties. The city subsequently filed with the state Workers’ Compensation Commission a notice of intent to reduce or discontinue the Mr. Williams’ comp benefits and initiated a fraud investigation of his claim, court records show.
During the investigation, Mr. Williams’ doctor “testified at his deposition that he had reduced the plaintiff's work hours to accommodate the plaintiff's desire to perform his second job and that there was no medical reason for the restriction.” Thereafter, the commissioner granted the city's request to reduce the Williams’ benefits and, after giving him notice of its intent to do so, the city conducted a pre-termination hearing to determine whether the plaintiff's employment should be terminated, records state.
Following his termination in late 2012, Mr. Williams’ union then filed a grievance in line with its collective-bargaining agreement claiming that the worker “had been fired without just cause.”
The city and the union agreed to arbitration before the state board, as authorized by the collective-bargaining agreement. Following a series of hearings, the state board ruled in favor of the city, concluding that “it had just cause to terminate the plaintiff because his receipt of workers compensation benefits was ‘the result of (Mr. Williams’) intentional deceit’ and his conduct amounted to theft,” records state.
Mr. Williams proceeded to file a separate retaliation suit, claiming he was fired because he filed a comp claim — a case which the City of New Haven aimed to halt.
Citing case law, the review board and, later, the commission agreed that (Mr. Williams’) “claim was not barred by principles of collateral estoppel. The review board also agreed with the commissioner that the issue that the plaintiff raised in his claim to the commission… was different from the issue raised in the arbitration proceeding pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement.”
The state Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld that decision, ruling that “even if the issues were the same” between the union and the employee “(state law) would permit the plaintiff to file his (retaliation) claim with the commission,” the court’s analysis states.
“Even if we were to assume that the issue that the plaintiff raised in his claim to the commission pursuant to (state law) was the same as the issue that the state board previously had decided in arbitration, the claim to the commission would not be precluded,” the ruling states. “We conclude, therefore, that the review board correctly determined that (state law) permitted the plaintiff to file a claim with the commission pursuant to (state law), despite the fact that the state board previously had issued an adverse decision on a similar claim in the arbitration proceeding brought pursuant to the plaintiff's collective bargaining agreement.”
Retaliation charges accounted for the largest number of charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in fiscal year 2017 for the seventh consecutive year, according to enforcement and litigation statistics released by the agency Thursday.