STATE OF CONNECTICUT v. CONNECTICUT EMPLOYEES UNION INDEPENDENT et al., SC 19590
Judicial District of Hartford
Arbitration; Whether Trial Court Properly Vacated Arbitration Award Reinstating Employee on Ground that Award Violated Public Policy Against Marijuana Use. The defendant, Gregory Linhoff, was employed by the state as a maintenance worker at the University of Connecticut Health Center. In 2012, Linhoff was arrested for smoking marijuana in a state owned vehicle during work hours, and the state terminated Linhoff’s employment for violating the health center’s rules of conduct and its alcohol and drug free workplace policy. The defendant union grieved the termination, and the grievance was submitted to arbitration. The arbitrator found that Linhoff engaged in misconduct by possessing and using marijuana while at work and that, while the state’s rules of conduct and its drug and alcohol policy allow for termination of first time offenders, they do not mandate it. The arbitrator observed that since Linhoff began his employment with the state in 1998, he had received favorable performance evaluations and had no disciplinary problems. The arbitrator also noted that Linhoff had voluntarily sought treatment for anxiety and depression shortly before the incident at issue. The arbitrator found that Linhoff did not commit such a breach of trust or show such a lack of character that would give rise to any concern that his return to work would create a danger or that he would be unable to perform as a productive employee. The arbitrator concluded that Linhoff’s firing did not fall within the proper range of progressive discipline and was therefore without just cause. The arbitrator further found, however, that Linhoff’s misconduct was substantial enough to warrant a significant penalty and ruled that he be suspended without pay for six months, that he be subject to random drug and alcohol testing for one year and that any further violation would warrant his immediate dismissal. The state filed an application in the trial court seeking that the arbitration award be vacated on the ground that it violates a public policy against illegal drug use while on state duty. The trial court vacated the arbitration award, finding that there is a well-defined public policy in Connecticut against the use of marijuana and that the arbitration award reinstating Linhoff violated that policy. The defendant union appeals from the trial court’s decision. After this appeal was filed, the Supreme Court decided Burr Road Operating Co. II, LLC v. New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, 316 Conn. 618 (2015), in which it clarified the factors that a reviewing court should consider in evaluating a claim that an arbitration award reinstating an employee violates public policy. Burr Road held that courts should consider (1) any guidance offered by the relevant statutes, regulations and other embodiments of the public policy at issue; (2) whether the employment at issue implicates public safety or the public trust; (3) the relative egregiousness of the employee’s conduct; and (4) whether the employee is incorrigible. The defendant argues that application of the Burr Road factors here demonstrates that the trial court’s decision vacating the arbitration award was improper.