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Employment Law Supreme Court Opinion

by Roy, Christopher

 

SC19691 - Spiotti v. Wolcott ("The primary issue that we must resolve in this appeal is whether this court should overrule its decision in Genovese v. Gallo Wine Merchants, Inc., 226 Conn. 475, 486, 628 A.2d 946 (1993), holding that, under General Statutes § 31-51bb, a factual determination made in a final and binding arbitration conducted pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement does not have preclusive effect in a subsequent action claiming a violation of the state or federal constitution or a state statute. The plaintiff, Doreen Spiotti, was a member of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, Local 332 (union), and was employed as a police officer in the Wolcott Police Department (department). After the plaintiff filed a complaint with an ombudsman for the department alleging that the department had engaged in retaliatory conduct against her, the department conducted an investigation and concluded that certain statements that the plaintiff had made in her complaint were false. Thereafter, Neil O’Leary, the chief of the department, recommended to the town council of the named defendant, the town of Wolcott, that the plaintiff’s employment be terminated. The defendant terminated the plaintiff, who then filed a grievance pursuant to the procedures set forth in the collective bargaining agreement between the defendant and the union. In accordance with those procedures, the Connecticut State Board of Mediation and Arbitration (board of mediation) conducted hearings on the issue of whether the plaintiff’s employment had been terminated for just cause, and it ultimately concluded that there was just cause on the basis of its determination that the plaintiff had made false statements in her complaint to the ombudsman and during the department’s investigation of that complaint.

Thereafter, the plaintiff brought the present action alleging, among other things, that her termination was in retaliation for bringing a previous action against the defendant alleging sex discrimination in violation of General Statutes § 46a-60 (a) (4), and for engaging in protected speech, namely, the complaint to the ombudsman, in violation of General Statutes § 31-51q. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiff’s claims were barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel because the factual underpinnings of those claims had been decided adversely to her by the board of mediation in the arbitration proceedings. The trial court denied the motion for summary judgment as to these claims on the ground that, under this court’s interpretation of § 31-51bb in Genovese, the doctrine of collateral estoppel does not bar a statutory cause of action that is brought after the same issue has been decided in arbitration pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement. The defendant then filed this appeal. The defendant contends that (1) Genovese should be overruled as a result of the legislature’s subsequent enactment of General Statutes § 1-2z, and (2) even if Genovese should not be overruled as the result of § 1-2z, it should be overruled because it was wrongly decided under then existing law. We conclude that Genovese is still good law and, therefore, affirm the judgment of the trial court.")