U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear Rowland appeal in union layoffs case

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear former Gov. John G. Rowland’s appeal regarding a ruling that his administration used layoffs to punish state employee unions in 2003.

The case now heads back to U.S. District Court in Hartford, where Rowland will file a motion to dismiss the case, according to a written statement released Monday through his attorney.

“It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court is not taking this case,” Rowland wrote in a statement. “It will have a profound impact on governors, mayors, boards of education and taxpayers all across America.”

A coalition of 13 state employee unions sued to challenge 2,800 layoffs Rowland ordered in December 2002 in response to a growing state budget deficit. The Republican governor, they charged, specifically targeted bargaining units to punish them for supporting Democrat William E. Curry Jr. in that year’s gubernatorial contest.

After the district court initially dismissed the case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled last May that Rowland’s layoffs were improper because they targeted unionized workers.

Both sides have agreed that the Rowland administration followed all appropriate seniority rules when the layoffs were enforced. But they also agreed that the job cuts weren’t based on any analysis of the state’s workforce needs.

Since the federal appeals court ruled, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration has indicated it will negotiate with the unions and workers to find a remedy. Both sides are expected to begin talks early this year.

But Rowland wrote in his statement Monday that “we continue to believe in the correctness of our actions,” adding that “the state’s decision to pull out of the appeal clearly undermined the chances of the high court” choosing to hear the case.

“No one — except apparently former Governor Rowland and his lawyers — is surprised that the Supreme Court rejected his appeal,” Stamford attorney David S. Golub, who represents state employees and their unions, wrote in a statement Monday.

“Attorney General (George) Jepsen correctly and wisely recognized that the Second Circuit’s decision would not be reversed by the Supreme Court and that it’s time to settle this case and provide relief to the thousands of public employees whose employment and lives former Governor Rowland’s unconstitutional actions damaged,” Golub wrote. “It’s also time for former Governor Rowland to stop wasting the taxpayers’ time and money with needless litigation.”

The lawsuit is a civil rights action aimed at Rowland and Marc Ryan in both their official capacity, and as individuals. Ryan, as Rowland’s secretary of Policy and Management, oversaw labor issues. It is possible, if negotiations fail, that the unions still could seek punitive damages against both former officials.

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