Private employers in Connecticut should take heed of the Connecticut Supreme Court’s recent decision in Trusz v. UBS Realty Investors, LLC. In the much anticipated decision, the state’s highest court ruled unanimously that “under the state constitution, employee speech pursuant to official job duties on certain matters of significant public interest is protected from employer discipline in a public workplace, and that [Conn. Gen. Stat.] § 31-51q extends the same protection to employee speech pursuant to official job duties in the private workplace.” In reaching its conclusion, the Connecticut Court found that the rule previously announced in 2006 by the United States Supreme Court in Garcetti v. Ceballos,—i.e., “that when . . . employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for [f]irst [a]mendment purposes, and the [c]onstitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline”—does not override the free speech provisions in Connecticut’s state constitution that provide a higher level of protection. The Court’s decision is significant in that it is the first time that a state supreme court has found that the Garcetti rule does not apply to claims brought pursuant to state law.
The underlying lawsuit in Trusz was filed in federal court by Richard Trusz, a former managing director of UBS Realty Investors, LLC, who claims he was retaliated against and later terminated from his position after revealing and later reporting that UBS had overstated the value of certain real estate holdings to its investors. The plaintiff alleged in his lawsuit that UBS violated § 31-51q by subjecting him to discipline “on account of the exercise . . . of rights guaranteed by . . . [§§] 3, 4, or 14 of article first of the [c]onstitution of Connecticut.” Thereafter, the district court certified to the Connecticut Supreme Court the question as to whether the rule announced in Garcetti applies to a claim that an employer violated § 31-51q by disciplining an employee for exercising his free speech rights guaranteed under the state constitution. Now that the Supreme Court has answered this certified question in the negative, the case will be sent back to the district court. Stay tuned for future developments in the case.