BURR ROAD OPERATING COMPANY II, LLC, D/B/A WESTPORT HEALTH CARE CENTER v. NEW ENGLAND HEALTH CARE EMPLOYEES UNION, DISTRICT 1199, SC 19160

Judicial District of Hartford

 

†† ††Arbitration; Employment; Whether Arbitration Award Reinstating Employee Discharged for Failure to Promptly Report Suspected Patient Abuse Violates Public Policy.† The plaintiff, a skilled nursing facility, employed Leoni Spence as a certified nursing assistant.† While on duty, Spence learned that another employee might have committed patient abuse and she reported the suspected abuse to a social worker at the facility several days later.† The plaintiff fired Spence, citing her failure to promptly and properly report the abuse allegation.† The defendant union grieved that decision, and the matter was submitted to arbitration.† An arbitrator ordered that Spence be reinstated, finding that there was just cause only to suspend her for one month, and the trial court granted the unionís application to confirm the arbitratorís award.† The plaintiff appealed, claiming that the arbitration award must be vacated as violative of a strong public policy of protecting residents of skilled nursing facilities from abuse.† Citing the Connecticut Patientsí Bill of Rights and other similar statutes, the Appellate Court (142 Conn. App. 213) concluded that Connecticut has a clear, well-defined and dominant public policy of protecting nursing home patients from abuse and that the policy includes the prompt reporting of any incident of suspected abuse.† On determining that the plaintiff had made a colorable claim that the award here was in violation of that policy, the court reviewed de novo the question of whether Spenceís reinstatement violated the public policy.† The court observed that Spenceís dismissal was not based solely on a single case of misconduct involving her failure to promptly report suspected patient abuse but also on a disciplinary history which included three prior incidents of similar misconduct.† The court further observed that Spenceís failure to report promptly was exacerbated by her failure to report through proper channels, thus increasing the risk that the suspected abuse would not be communicated promptly to the proper individuals.† The Appellate Court reversed the trial courtís judgment and remanded with direction to vacate the arbitration award.† In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that the arbitration award must be vacated as violative of public policy.