By DAVE COLLINS
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Former Gov. John G. Rowland’s administration violated state employees’ constitutional rights when it laid off 2,800 workers based on their union membership in 2003, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled Friday that the workers’ First Amendment right of freedom of association with labor unions was violated and ordered a lower court to decide on an award for the employees. The ruling overturned a June 2011 decision by U.S. District Judge Alfred V. Covello in Hartford in favor of the Rowland administration, which denied wrongdoing.
The appeals court also ruled that the unions and plaintiff employees can pursue civil penalties against Rowland and his then-budget director, Marc Ryan, for their actions in their individual capacities during the layoffs.
Stamford attorney David Golub, who represented the unionized workers, called the court’s decision “remarkable.”
“It’s an absolute upholding of union members’ constitutional rights to belong to a union,” he said Monday. “No state can penalize people for belonging to a union. It very clearly holds that what Rowland did was illegal and unconstitutional. People’s lives were disrupted in what was an illegal act.”
Golub said the appeals court sent the case back to a U.S. District Court judge to decide how much money should be awarded to the laid-off workers for their losses. Golub said the amount of money lost by the workers as a result of the layoffs has yet to be determined.
Although the 2,800 unionized employees lost their jobs, many were later rehired by the state when other workers left their jobs, Golub said. But many of the rehired workers didn’t get their old jobs back and were hired for less pay than they were making before getting pink slips, he said.
The attorney for the Rowland administration, Daniel Klau, declined to comment and referred questions to the state Office of Policy and Management. Messages seeking comment were left Monday for OPM officials, Rowland, Ryan and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office.
The 2nd Circuit Court noted that no non-union workers were laid off during the 2003 job cuts. At the time, the state government workforce included 37,500 union members and about 12,500 non-union members.
The appeals court also said the layoffs had little effect on lowering state budget expenses and were ordered to try to compel the unions to agree to the concessions. The court said it’s a well-established principle that union activity is protected by the First Amendment.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in 2003, include state employees, labor unions and the State Bargaining Agent Coalition, an organization of state employee union leaders. The case has been pending for so long because of numerous court filings and rulings, including one by the 2nd Circuit in 2007 that rejected the Rowland administration’s claims of immunity by government officials against lawsuits.
Rowland, a Republican, resigned from the governor’s office in July 2004 amid a federal corruption investigation. He pleaded guilty to a corruption charge and served 10 months in a federal prison camp. He now has an afternoon talk show on WTIC-AM.
Ryan left state service and is working in Florida.