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Connecticut Court Blocks Reinstatement Of State Employee With Drug Convictions

  • May 1, 2001

The Connecticut Appellate Court threw out an arbitration award ordering the reinstatement of a state social services assistant who pled guilty to felony charges of possession of marijuana and cocaine with an intent to sell and whose duties included transporting children. Connecticut v. AFSCME Council 4, Local 2663. Although courts normally defer to arbitration awards, a court can reverse an arbitration award in limited circumstances, such as when the award violates a clear public policy. The Appellate Court found that the public policy favoring the protection of children warranted vacating the arbitration award.

The Department hired the assistant in March 1995. An arrest warrant was issued for the assistant in April 1995, and served in December 1995. In February 1996, the assistant plead guilty to two felony drug charges and received a seven-year suspended sentence with three years of probation. In April 1996, the assistant informed the Department of his sentence and the Department fired him. The assistant's union filed a grievance on his behalf and argued that the Department did not have just cause to fire him. The arbitrator agreed and reduced the dismissal to a suspension. The Department moved to vacate the arbitration award as contrary to public policy, and the Connecticut Superior Court granted the Department's motion. The union appealed.

Agreeing with the trial court, the appellate court determined that the protection of children is a "clear, well-defined, dominant and compelling public interest of this state." Accordingly, the court concluded that "[c]ommon sense commands that it is utterly inappropriate to place potentially troubled children in daily contact with a convicted drug offender. An arbitrator's award that undermines the Department's responsibility in such a dramatic way violates a compelling public policy, and we will not allow it to stand."

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