After nearly a decade, the Second Circuit Court's opinion invalidating John Rowland's layoff of nearly 3,000 state employees is a tremendous victory for the free speech rights of all Americans.
In a ruling issued May 31, the court held that when a governor punishes people because of the group to whom they belong – whether it's a union or a political party, or a religion – he or she violates our Constitution's most cherished provisions.
The case is now being remanded to the district court to craft appropriate equitable relief, and to consider the case for damages against Rowland.
"The Second Circuit Court’s opinion shows that Rowland’s treatment of public service workers as the enemy is costly and destructive – to the workers and the vital public services they provide, and to every taxpayer," said Attorney Daniel E. Livingston, chief negotiator for the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC).
"Instead, it is mutual respect – for the law, for public service workers, and most importantly the public we all serve – which will move us forward towards a better future," Livingston added. "Our country and state simply function better when top officials work with and for working families, instead of against them."
"The state union coalition stood up for workers’ rights and for quality public services. I’m proud to be a part of that effort," said AFSCME Local 704 member Geneva Hedgecock, a plaintiff in the case who was illegally fired in 2003.
Hedgecock was a secretary at the Bristol Department of Social Services, which Rowland shuttered in 2003. She now works as a secretary for the Department of Public Health.
“When Rowland closed the Bristol DSS office, it affected our clients, our community and it affected workers like me," she said.
The Court’s decision is a welcome reminder to the John Rowlands of Connecticut, the Scott Walkers of Wisconsin and the Koch brothers of everywhere that in America it’s not just the powerful, the rich and the big corporations that have free speech rights.