This case concerns the applicability of General Statutes § 31-51q
The plaintiff, Gonzalo Cotto, filed a two count complaint against the defendant, Sikorsky Aircraft, Division of United Technologies Corporation,
The plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Court only with respect to the denial of his statutory claim for relief. The majority of that court, Dupont, J., and Daly,
The opinion of the Appellate Court recites the relevant background. "The plaintiff alleged in his complaint that he was employed on a full-time basis by the defendant for approximately twelve years. The relevant portions of other allegations of the plaintiffs complaint are ... as follows: `On or about April 22, 1991, the defendant, acting through [its] management personnel, distributed American flags to employees in the plaintiffs department and it was expected that all employees would display American flags at their workstations. The plaintiff declined to display the American flag and further gave his opinion on the propriety of coercing or exerting pressure on employees to display the American flag. As a result of the plaintiffs refusal to display the American flag and as a direct and proximate result of his comments with respect to displaying the flag, he was subjected to threats and harassment from his coworkers. Said threats and harassment were directed toward him by his coworkers with the full support and
To determine whether the plaintiff has stated a valid cause of action, we must decide two questions. First, as a matter of statutory construction, does § 31-51q provide any remedy for an alleged impairment of constitutional rights of free speech at a privately owned workplace? We conclude that the statute does provide such a remedy under the proper circumstances. Second, as a matter of statutory application, does the statute provide a remedy for the employer conduct alleged to have occurred in the present case? We conclude that the statute has no application to the facts alleged in the complaint presently before us. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court.
To determine whether the conduct of private employers is within the scope of § 31-51q, we turn to well
Section 31-51q creates a statutory cause of action for damages against "[a]ny employer" for "any employee" who has been subjected "to discipline or discharge on account of the exercise by such employee of rights guaranteed by the first amendment to the United States Constitution or section 3, 4 or 14 of article first of the Constitution of the state...." On its face, the statute extends the protection of federal and state constitutional rights in two respects. It provides coverage for private employees as well as for governmental employees, and it imposes liability on private employers as well as governmental employers.
Our point of departure must be the language of the statute itself. The statute identifies, as the class of those
Read literally, the language employed by the legislature unconditionally includes private employers as well as public employers within the terms of the statute. The phraseology of expressly "including" governmental employers is not readily transmuted into the manifestation of an intention of impliedly "excluding" private employers. The use of the word "any" at the outset of the statutory language reenforces its natural reading to encompass rights at a private workplace. Had the legislature meant to confine the statute to the conduct of governmental actors, as the defendant urges us to conclude, the legislature presumably could have done so directly, by adding "public" or "governmental" before "employer." To read the statute as limited to governmental actors requires either the deletion of words that the statute contains or the addition of a word that it does not contain. That is not a preferred method of statutory analysis.
Construing § 31-51q to encompass the infringement of constitutional rights at the private workplace, as the statute literally reads, is entirely consistent with the purpose of the statute. The statute plainly was intended to protect the first amendment and related state constitutional rights of working men and women. As a remedial statute, § 31-51q deserves a generous construction
The legislative history of § 31-51q supports a literal reading of the statute that implements its remedial purpose. The following colloquy among Senator Howard T. Owens, Jr., who sponsored the bill, and three opponents of the bill, namely, Senators Eugene A. Skowronski, John G. Matthews and Anne P. Streeter, is illuminating:
"Senator Owens: This bill, Mr. President, would make any employer, including the state or any municipality, liable to any employee who is disciplined or discharged because such employee exercises ... rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution unless such activity substantially interfered with the employee's bona fide job performance, the liability would be for damages including punitive damages and reasonable attorney's fees ....
"Senator Skowronski: Senator Owens, what have been the instances or examples of such discharge in the State of Connecticut that would require passage of this bill which I think has many, many potential problems to it? ...
"Senator Skowronski: Only partly .... Have there been cases of discharges and disciplines? Have they been numerous? ...
"Senator Owens: Sometimes, there [are] not always serious abuses and there might not be a proliferation of complaints coming in, but in order to make sure that the rights are protected under the Constitution of the United States, and also under our State Constitution, we have to make sure that there is a warning and a safeguard going out. So that's why it makes it a very excellent bill." 26 S. Proc., Pt. 11, 1983 Sess., pp. 3597-600.
Next, Senators Skowronski, Matthews and Streeter all voiced their opposition to the bill. "Senator Skowronski: I rise to oppose the bill because I think it really has the potential for creating many, many problems. We are talking about the exercise of First Amendment rights, some of the broadest rights we have the Freedom of Speech, in particular. I think it is going to really create strain and uncertainty in the labor-management area and in the employer-employee relationship to pass this law and to say that someone can't be disciplined or discharged for exercising their right of free speech. I would assume this may give anyone the right to say anything to his employer or any other employee and say, well, I'm just exercising my right of free speech even though the exercise of that right of free speech may have a very adverse impact on the orderly operation of the business, and on the relationship between the
"Senator Matthews: I rise in support of Senator Skowronski's position on the bill. It seems to me that what we have here, as I think has been touched upon, is you have the First Amendment under the Federal Constitution which indicates there are certain elements which are available and free, ah, it doesn't seem to be necessary that we now have to identify that again in the state statutes by providing the kind of a bill that we have here which does, as it has been pointed out, restrict, in my mind at least, a lot of potential employer-employee relationships which already are being tied down severely. I am not going to go into further detail because I think most of the ideas have been expressed. I think that we don't need this bill in the sense that it is indicated in the comments of Senator Owens. I think it is a bill which just adds something more to something that is already in existence through the Federal First Amendment of the Constitution....
"Senator Streeter: I also rise to oppose this bill for the same reasons that Senator Skowronski outlined. It seems to me that we have the Federal First Amendment right to cover the general aspect and yesterday we passed the whistle blowing legislation which does guarantee that an employee who is trying to speak out
This colloquy demonstrates that the problem that the legislature intended to address could well be located at a place of private employment. Senator Owens' references to "complaints" involving the federal occupational safety laws and to "labor affairs" can readily be understood to relate to the concerns of employees at a private workplace. Id., p. 3599. Those who opposed enactment of the legislation were addressing the same situs. It is hard to see what else Senator Skowronski would have had in mind when he commented that the bill "may give anyone the right to say anything to his employer or any other employee and say, well, I'm just exercising my right of free speech...." Id., p. 3601. It is not plausible that the senators' colloquy impliedly was limited to issues of employee discipline arising out of expressions of employee opinions only on public property.
Concededly, there is one piece of legislative history that can be read to support the narrower reading of the statute that the defendant urges us to adopt. The remarks of Representative Richard D. Tulisano, the bill's sponsor in the House of Representatives, were as follows: "Mr. Speaker, this legislation would establish
The question raised by Representative Tulisano's remarks is whether he intended to convey a job site limitation by his use of the phrase "on the job." Although his referent is not entirely clear, in context we are persuaded that he should be understood to have stated that an employee should not be disciplined for the exercise of his "first amendment rights," as long as that exercise does not affect his performance "on the job."
Finally, a literal construction of § 31-51q to encompass the protection of employee constitutional rights at a private workplace is entirely consistent with the broad array of statutory and common-law rights that are an acknowledged part of the wider legal landscape of relationships between employers and employees. See generally Butler v. Hartford Technical Institute, Inc., 243 Conn. 454, 461, 704 A.2d 222 (1997) (statutes should be interpreted in light of existing statutes because legislature is presumed to have created consistent body of law).
As the Appellate Court aptly observed, § 31-51q is analogous to other state statutes that safeguard an employee from discharge for expressions of opinion at
In addition, this court has recognized the existence of a common-law "public policy exception to the employment at-will rule in an effort to balance the competing interests of employer and employee." Antinerella v. Rioux, 229 Conn. 479, 492, 642 A.2d 699 (1994) (application of doctrine appropriate where defendant is accused of discharging plaintiff in order to be able to violate statute), citing Sheets v. Teddy's Frosted Foods, Inc., supra, 179 Conn. 471 (creating tort of wrongful discharge where defendant allegedly discharged plaintiff because he insisted that defendant comply with
The public policy represented by this broad panoply of existing statutory and common-law rights in the private workplace makes it entirely reasonable to conclude that the legislature, in enacting § 31-51q, intended to afford similar rights to freedom of expression in the same place.
In light of all the foregoing, we are persuaded that the legislature meant what it said. Section 31-51q extends protection of rights of free speech under the federal and the state constitutions to employees in the private workplace. The statute is not limited to freedom of speech in the public arena.
Our conclusion that § 31-51q includes protection for free speech rights under some circumstances does not mean that it does so under all circumstances. We must decide whether, on the facts as alleged in his complaint, the plaintiff has stated a cause of action under the statute. Like the majority of the Appellate Court, we conclude that he has not done so.
As a statutory matter, a statute that protects constitutional rights in the workplace should not be construed so as to transform every dispute about working conditions into a constitutional question. The legislature made its intention in that respect clear by stating expressly, in § 31-51q, that the statute provides a cause of action only against discharge for expressions of opinion that do "not substantially or materially interfere with the employee's bona fide job performance or the working relationship between the employee and the employer...." The statute applies only to expressions regarding public concerns that are motivated by an employee's desire to speak out as a citizen. Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 146, 103 S.Ct. 1684, 75 L. Ed. 2d 708 (1983); Daley v. Aetna Life & Casualty Co., 249 Conn. 766, 783-84, 734 A.2d 112 (1999); see also Lewis v. Cowen, 165 F.3d 154, 163-64 (2d Cir. 1999).
As a constitutional matter, the fact that the plaintiff protested an order to display the flag does not mean that he automatically has stated a cognizable constitutional claim. Although the United States Supreme Court has identified the "expressive element in conduct relating to flags"; Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 405, 109 S.Ct. 2533, 105 L. Ed. 2d 342 (1989); it also has held that the constitutional implications, under the first amendment, of conduct with respect to the flag depend on "the context in which [that conduct] occurred." Id.
In the present case, the nub of the plaintiffs allegation of employer misconduct implicating his first amendment rights is that "[o]n or about April 22, 1991, the
The long and short of the performance that the defendant allegedly required of the plaintiff was that he was directed to take a flag from place A, a box containing such flags, and move it to place B, his workstation. Even though the flag is a symbol of government, the plaintiff has cited no judicial authority for the proposition that every work assignment involving the flag implicates an employee's constitutional rights of free speech. See Troster v. Pennsylvania State Dept. of Correction, 65 F.3d 1086, 1092 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1047,
It is instructive to compare the plaintiff's case with that which would have arisen if, hypothetically, he had arrived at his workstation to find that his supervisor had affixed a flag to every workstation including his own. Although the plaintiff might have felt aggrieved by finding the flag there, he would have been hard put to articulate a viable constitutional basis for his grievance. He could not have relied on Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 633-34, 63 S.Ct. 1178, 87 L. Ed. 1628 (1943), because of the absence of any direction that he do or say anything related to his own political beliefs. He could not have relied on Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U.S. 705, 713, 97 S.Ct. 1428, 51 L. Ed. 2d 752 (1977), because his own property would not have been commandeered to convey to the public a political belief to which he did not subscribe. He could not have relied on Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Group of Boston, Inc., 515 U.S. 557, 569-70, 115 S.Ct. 2338, 132 L. Ed. 2d 487 (1995), because he would not have been required to be identified or associated with his employer's political message. In sum, the message of the flag reasonably could not have been attributed to him personally. Under such circumstances, even though the symbolism of the flag may often be a matter of public concern, a complaint based on having to see the flag at a workstation would not, in all probability, have stated a valid constitutional claim.
From a first amendment point of view, it is difficult to see a persuasive distinction between that hypothetical case and the case presently before us. A direction to the plaintiff to affix a flag to his workstation did not require him either to manifest or to clarify his personal political beliefs. Because a flag was to be affixed to
The plaintiff's claim, therefore, devolves into the assertion that, although he was not, in law, compelled to articulate or to refute any political belief, his aversion to the positioning of a flag at his workstation gave him a constitutional right to protest. It may be that a managerial decision about a new placement of flags in the workplace is a grievable change in working conditions, but that would not be a constitutional claim. With respect to any such constitutional claim, it suffices in this case that the plaintiff has not made it.
The judgment of the Appellate Court is affirmed.
In this opinion PALMER, J., concurred, and CALAHAN, C. J., and BORDEN and MCDONALD, Js., concurred in the result.
BORDEN, J., with whom CALLAHAN, C. J., joins, concurring and dissenting. I agree with the majority in its ultimate conclusion that the plaintiff has not stated
I address briefly the three fundamental flaws in the majority's analysis of § 31-51q. First, despite its repeated references to "a literal reading of the statute," to a "literal construction of § 31-51q," and to the language of the statute as its "point of departure," the majority ignores the core of the statute, namely, that it subjects to civil liability for damages any employer
Second, the majority sets up the proverbial straw man by characterizing the defendant's argument as limited to the proposition that "the legislature meant to confine the statute to the conduct of governmental actors...." This is an unduly cramped reading of the defendant's position, which is that the statute does not reach private speech on an employer's private property, and that it would raise serious constitutional questions if it were construed to do so.
Furthermore, even if that were the sum of the defendant's argument, we have never considered ourselves barred from a proper interpretation of a statute by the litigants' specific assertions. Moreover, the defendant's position, properly understood, simply mirrors the reasoning of the trial court in this case, and the reasoning of Judge Hennessy's concurring opinion in the Appellate Court. See Cotto v. United Technologies Corp., 48 Conn.App. 618, 632, 711 A.2d 1180 (1998) (Hennessy, J., concurring). It is difficult to understand why we should read the defendant's reliance on those opinions more narrowly than the opinions themselves.
Third, the majority, in footnote 5 of its opinion, suggests that I have raised on my own the question of "the constitutional rights of employers to express their own
Contrary to the assertion of the majority, therefore, the conflict between the employee's and the employer's expressive rights is presented by this case, at least insofar as that conflict must necessarily inform the question of statutory interpretation that this case presents. Moreover, that conflict is presented "in light of the particular facts and circumstances presented" by the plaintiff's allegations in this case. I turn, therefore, to the question of statutory interpretation presented in this appeal.
The defendant moved to strike the plaintiffs complaint on the ground that it failed to state a cause of action under § 31-51q. The trial court agreed, reasoning that the "[p]laintiff's speech at his workplace is not
The Appellate Court, although reaching the same result in a divided opinion, took a different view of the scope of the statute. The majority of that court concluded "that § 31-51q applies to some activities and speech that occur at the workplace...." Cotto v. United Technologies Corp., supra, 48 Conn.App. 628. Analogizing the scope of the statute to the protection afforded governmental employees under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
On appeal to this court, the plaintiff claims that, although the majority of the Appellate Court was correct in its preliminary conclusion that § 31-51q applies to the present case, it was incorrect in its ultimate conclusion regarding whether the plaintiffs expressive activity was protected. The defendant claims that the Appellate Court was correct in its ultimate conclusion that the plaintiffs conduct was not protected. The defendant also presents the reasoning of Judge Hennessy's concurring opinion, which mirrors the reasoning of the trial court, as an alternate ground for affirmance of the judgment of the Appellate Court; see Practice Book § 63-4; namely, that § 31-51q does not apply to the facts alleged by the plaintiff. I agree with the defendant's alternate ground for affirmance.
Whether § 31-51q applies to the events resulting in the discharge of the plaintiff by the defendant presents a question of statutory interpretation. "The process of statutory interpretation involves a reasoned search for the intention of the legislature. Frillici v. Westport, 231 Conn. 418, 431, 650 A.2d 557 (1994). In other words, we seek to determine, in a reasoned manner, the meaning of the statutory language as applied to the facts of this case, including the question of whether the language actually does apply. In seeking to determine that meaning, we look to the words of the statute itself, to the
I begin with the language of the statute. The core of the protection under § 31-51q is "the exercise by such employee of rights guaranteed by the first amendment to the United States Constitution or section 3, 4 or 14 of article first of the Constitution of the state...." The first amendment of the United States constitution,
Thus, when the legislature referred in § 31-51q to the exercise by the employee "of rights guaranteed by the first amendment to the United States Constitution or section 3, 4 or 14 of article first of the Constitution of the state," that language strongly suggests that it was intended to have the same meaning in the statute that it
It is true that, in colloquial speech, people may refer to their "constitutional right of free speech" in contexts other than governmental interference. That reference, however, is based on an uninformed view of the constitutional guarantee. It is possible, of course, that the legislature had this colloquialism in mind when it enacted § 31-51q. In the absence of a strong showing, however, we should not, as the majority implicitly does, attribute to the legislature a status of being uninformed about the subject matter of its own legislation. There is no such showing here.
Furthermore, the broad sweep of the constitutional protections to which § 31-51q refers, and their general natures, similarly suggest that the statute applies only to governmental action. The statute refers to much more than speech by an employee, and includes the constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and of the press, and the constitutional rights of peaceable assembly and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. These other expressive constitutional guarantees are normally thought of, even colloquially, only with regard to governmental activity. Although it is possible to conceive of situations in which conduct by a private employer might be seen as interfering with the right to publish a newspaper, it certainly requires some strain on the statutory language to think of factual situations that would fall within that guarantee. Moreover, certain of these other constitutional guarantees are associated only with governmental action, and have no discernible application to workplace activity, namely, the first amendment's textual prohibition against the establishment of a religion, and the rights, under both the first amendment and § 14, of article first,
I acknowledge that there is language in the statute that could be interpreted to point to a broader scope of the statute than I have identified. For example, § 31-51q specifically includes "the state and any instrumentality or political subdivision thereof" within the meaning of the term "any employer." That provision, however, is more plausibly read as a specific recognition that, at the least, the state and its subdivisions stand on the same footing as a private employer, and are therefore subject to the same statutory damages action as a private employer, rather than an indication of a legislative intent that the statute reaches private conduct on private premises. Without that language, for example, an employee bringing an action under § 31-51q for having been disciplined or discharged by the state for his or her exercise of the specified constitutional rights, might have been met with the arguments that: (1) "any employer" does not include the state, on the basis of an assertion that statutes imposing liabilities on the state must do so with specificity; see, e.g., Struckman v. Burns, 205 Conn. 542, 558, 534 A.2d 888 (1987) (state not required to pay prejudgment interest where statute does not expressly waive sovereign immunity); and (2) in such a case, therefore, the employee's remedies would be an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, or an attempt to fashion a cognizable action directly under the state constitution. Compare Kelley Property Development, Inc. v. Lebanon, 226 Conn. 314, 316, 627 A.2d 909 (1993), with Binette v. Sabo, 244 Conn. 23, 25-26, 710 A.2d 688 (1998). With that language, however, § 31-51q makes clear that those arguments would be without merit.
It is also true that the proviso in § 31-51q, namely, that the employee's conduct "does not substantially or materially interfere with the employee's bona fide job
Furthermore, interpreting the statute to apply to private workplace conduct could—and, in the present case, does—bring two competing sets of expressive rights into conflict, and therefore places the state, in the form of the courts, on one side of that contest. Such a construction raises serious constitutional issues. It is well established that we construe statutes to avoid, rather than to confront, such issues. Castagno v. Wholean, 239 Conn. 336, 344, 684 A.2d 1181 (1996). The majority, however, places an interpretation on the statute that brings such a confrontation to the fore.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has interpreted the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act in just that fashion.
"In the present case, this application of the statute is made doubly unusual because, unlike in the typical discrimination case, there are free speech interests on the defendant's side of the balance as well. The plaintiff's statutory `free speech' right against the defendant is to be measured against the defendant's constitutional right against the state. If it were to enforce the statute, the state would be entering the marketplace of ideas in order to restrict speech that may have the effect of `coercing' other speech.
"We have grave concerns about the implication of such a conflict. If constitutional protections are effectively to protect private expression, they must do so, to some extent, even when the expression (or lack thereof) of one private person threatens to interfere with the expression of another.... The courts, noting that free speech guarantees protect citizens against governmental restraints upon expression, have hesitated
The same danger applies in the present case. The defendant has a viable expressive interest in seeing that its workplace—which it owns and in which its products are produced—be festooned with American flags. Moreover, it is likely that, in most cases in which an employee claims that his or her right to express himself or herself at the workplace has been stifled by the employer, the employer would have some corresponding expressive interest at stake as well.
In addition, the jurisprudential background of § 31-51q, and the drastic consequences that the majority's reading of the statute has in view of that background, support the conclusion that it was not intended to apply in the present case. This statute must be viewed against the background of the established jurisprudence regarding free expression in the workplace. Interpreting the statute so as to apply to speech by an employee at his private employer's workplace necessarily imports into every employment relationship in the state that entire body of very complicated and fact sensitive constitutional jurisprudence. This, in turn, under the majority's interpretation, means that every employer in this state—large and small—would be well advised to consult with a constitutional lawyer before disciplining any employee for any workplace conduct arguably coming within any of the specified constitutional freedoms and rights. That recognition counsels strongly against a broad reading of the statute.
It requires the examination of only two cases to demonstrate this point. In Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 140, 103 S.Ct. 1684, 75 L. Ed. 2d 708 (1983), the plaintiff was an assistant district attorney in New Orleans, and the defendant district attorney was her employer. Following a dispute between them regarding his desire to
The United States Supreme Court, in a five to four decision, analyzed the case as follows. First, as a general matter, the case required the court to arrive at "a balance between the interests of the [employee], as a citizen, in commenting upon matters of public concern and the interest of the State, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 142. Second, although the plaintiffs communication was not entirely without first amendment protection, there is also a "common-sense realization that government offices could not function if every employment decision became a constitutional matter." Id., 143. Third, "[w]hen employee expression cannot be fairly considered as relating to any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community, government officials should enjoy wide latitude in managing their offices, without intrusive oversight by the judiciary in the name of the First Amendment." Id., 146. Fourth, "[w]hether an employee's speech addresses a matter of public concern must be determined by the content,
Because of this exception, however, it was then necessary for the court to engage in the process of balancing the state's interest "in the effective and efficient fulfillment of its responsibilities to the public"; id., 150; against the employee's interest in free expression. That balancing process, however, the court made clear, must be made on a case-by-case basis. The "State's burden in justifying a particular discharge varies depending upon the nature of the employee's expression. Although such particularized balancing is difficult, the courts must reach the most appropriate possible balance of the competing interests." Id. Again, "the manner, time and place" of the employee's expression must be weighed in that balance; id., 152; as well as "the context in which the dispute arose...." Id., 153. Applying those very general principles, the court concluded that the defendant had been justified in discharging the plaintiff. Id., 154.
In Waters v. Churchill, 511 U.S. 661, 664, 114 S.Ct. 1878, 128 L. Ed. 2d 686 (1994), decided eleven years after Connick, the court was confronted with the question of "whether the Connick test should be applied to what the government employer thought was said, or to what the trier of fact ultimately determines to have been said." The case involved the public employer's reliance, in discharging the employee, on reports of certain statements purportedly made by the employee at work during a dinner break. Id.
The point of this discussion is not to comment on the policy choice of whether a private employer should be subject to the same rules as is a public employer. That choice is for the legislature, not this court, to decide. These cases illustrate, however, that we should be cautious about interpreting our statute in such a way that would have the potential to embroil every private employer that finds the need to discipline or discharge
Finally, the legislative history of § 31-51q is, at best, ambiguous. There is no record of any committee hearings on the bill that eventually became § 31-51q. The debate in the House of Representatives is generally consistent with the view of the statute that I have articulated.
I would, therefore, affirm the judgment of the trial court granting the motion to strike on the ground that § 31-51q does not apply to the facts alleged in the plaintiff's complaint.
Although the Appellate Court concluded that § 31-51q applies to the present case, it nonetheless determined that the trial court correctly had granted the defendant's motion to strike because, as a matter of law, the plaintiff's expression merely constituted a personal grievance over his working conditions. Cotto v. United Technologies Corp., 48 Conn.App. 618, 631-32, 711 A.2d
Because the present appeal follows from a motion to strike, the facts alleged in the plaintiffs complaint must be taken to be true, and construed in the manner most favorable to the pleader. Parsons v. United Technologies Corp., 243 Conn. 66, 68, 700 A.2d 655 (1997). The determination regarding the legal sufficiency of a claim is a conclusion of law, not a finding of fact. Id. Consequently, our review is plenary. Id. Additionally, it is well established that pleadings should be read broadly and realistically, as opposed to narrowly and technically. LeConche v. Elligers, 215 Conn. 701, 716, 579 A.2d 1 (1990). Accordingly, we must determine whether, as a matter of law, the complaint was legally sufficient. Novametrix Medical Systems, Inc. v. BOC Group, Inc., 224 Conn. 210, 214-15, 618 A.2d 25 (1992).
In order to elucidate a private employee's right to free expression pursuant to § 31-51q, it is instructive to examine several decisions of the United States Supreme Court that have carved out the parameters of a government employee's right to free expression under the first amendment to the United States constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
On the other hand, the court in Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563, 568-75, 88 S.Ct. 1731, 20 L. Ed. 2d 811 (1968), held that a teacher, by virtue of his public employment, does not relinquish first amendment rights to comment on matters of public interest. "[S]peech concerning public affairs is more than selfexpression; it is the essence of self-government.... Accordingly, the Court has frequently reaffirmed that speech on public issues occupies the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values...." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Connick v. Myers, supra, 461 U.S. 145. Whether an employee's expression addresses a matter of public concern must be determined on a case-by-case basis, examining the content, form and context of the relevant conduct, within the framework of the entire record. Id., 147-48 (examining content, form and context of conduct); Givhan v. Western Line Consolidated School District, 439 U.S. 410, 415 n.4, 99 S.Ct. 693, 58 L. Ed. 2d 619 (1979)
In the present case, the complaint alleges that "[t]he plaintiff declined to display the American flag and further gave his opinion on the propriety of coercing or exerting pressure on employees to display the American flag." The American flag, the subject of countless actions regarding individuals' constitutional right to the freedom of speech, is a topic that is undeniably a matter of public interest and concern. See, e.g., Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 109 S.Ct. 2533, 105 L. Ed. 2d 342 (1989) (burning of American flag in symbolic protest of governmental policies protected by first amendment); Street v. New York, 394 U.S. 576, 89 S.Ct. 1354, 22 L. Ed. 2d 572 (1969) (right to speak in contemptuous terms about flag protected by first amendment). The United States Supreme Court has described the American flag as a "symbol of adherence to government as presently organized." Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 633, 63 S.Ct. 1178, 87 L. Ed. 1628 (1943). Consequently, requiring an employee to display an American flag at his workstation requires him to support the American government. See generally Elrod v. Burns,
According to the complaint, the plaintiff took two actions: (1) he "declined to display the American flag"; and (2) he "gave his opinion on the propriety of coercing or exerting pressure on employees to display the American flag." It is well settled that the freedom of speech is also the freedom not to speak, hence the plaintiff's failure to display the flag was speech pursuant to both the federal and state constitutions. See, e.g., Board of Education v. Barnette, supra, 319 U.S. 624 (finding violation of first amendment rights where state compelled public school students to salute American flag). Moreover, it is undisputed that the government could not compel the plaintiff, or other citizens at large, to display the American flag. See id.
In the present case, the Appellate Court held that the issue of whether the defendant should be able to expect the plaintiff to display an American flag may be a personal grievance involving a working condition, but it does not constitute a matter of public interest. Cotto v. United Technologies Corp., supra, 48 Conn.App. 631.
Second, as this court previously has indicated, the employee's motivation is decisive as to whether the expression is a matter of public concern. Daley v. Aetna Life & Casualty Co., supra, 249 Conn. 784. The determinative inquiry is whether the speaker's interest arises from his status as a private employee. Blum v. Schlegel, 18 F.3d 1005, 1012 (2d Cir. 1994); see also Lewis v. Cowen, 165 F.3d 154, 163-64 (2d Cir. 1999) (must analyze whether speech was calculated to redress personal grievances or whether it was motivated by more general public purpose even if content of speech was generally issue of public concern); Ezekwo v. New York City Health & Hospitals Corp., supra, 940 F.2d 781 (examining whether speaker was "on a mission to protect the public welfare" in criticizing quality of physician training program). A person who is motivated by both personal and civic concerns, however, is not denied the protections of § 31-51q as a matter of law. See, e.g., Donahue v. Windsor Locks Board of Fire Commissioners, supra, 834 F.2d 58. Because a plaintiffs motivation necessarily involves a question of fact to be resolved by a jury; Daley v. Aetna Life & Casualty Co., supra, 778; it should not be concluded as a matter of law that the motivation was purely personal.
In addition, pursuant to § 31-51q, it must be proven that the employee's expression of public concern did not "substantially or materially interfere with the employee's bona fide job performance or the working relationship between the employee and the employer."
In the present case, the Appellate Court noted in a footnote that the allegations in the complaint implied that the plaintiffs expressions interfered with his relationship with his employer by causing a disturbance among the employees. Cotto v. United Technologies Corp., supra, 48 Conn.App. 625-26 n.10. The complaint, however, alleges that "[a]s a result of the plaintiffs refusal to display the American flag and as a direct and proximate result of his comments with respect to displaying the flag, he was subjected to threats and harassment from his coworkers. Said threats and harassment were directed toward him by his coworkers with the full support and encouragement of the [defendant]." (Emphasis added.) When the facts are construed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, they indicate that the defendant, not the plaintiff, caused the threats and harassment. In addition, there is no evidence describing the extent or characteristics of the harassment and threats, where the harassment or threats took place, or the effect that they had on the parties. The extremely fact-specific nature of the necessary inquiry into the disruptiveness of the plaintiffs expressions manifests the factual nature of this particular issue—an issue that should not be decided as a matter of law on the pleadings. "In performing the balancing [test], the statement [at issue] will not be considered in a vacuum; the manner, time and place of the employee's expression are relevant, as is the context in which the dispute arose." Rankin v. McPherson, 483 U.S. 378, 388, 107 S.Ct. 2891, 97 L. Ed. 2d 315 (1987).
In sum, on the basis of the allegations in the complaint, I cannot conclude as a matter of law that the
I now address the basis of my disagreement with that portion of the majority opinion in which, although recognizing that the employment policy at issue could involve a matter of public concern, it nevertheless concludes that the plaintiff has not alleged sufficiently a constitutional violation pursuant to § 31-51q.
To begin, however, I agree that there effectively is no difference between the two scenarios the majority postulates, both of which require the employee to keep a flag on his desk at work. Whether the employee is forced to put it there himself or endure its placement by another person is of little consequence. The right of freedom of thought protected by the first amendment includes both the right to speak freely and the right to refrain from speaking at all. See Board of Education v. Barnette, supra, 319 U.S. 633-34. Similarly, it is well established that "[a] system which secures the right to proselytize religious, political, and ideological causes must also guarantee the concomitant right to decline to foster such concepts. The right to speak and the right to refrain from speaking are complementary components of the broader concept of individual freedom of mind. [Id., 637]." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 51, 105 S.Ct. 2479, 86 L. Ed. 2d 29 (1985). Although "the affirmative act of a flag salute involved a more serious infringement upon personal liberties than the passive act of carrying the state motto on a license plate ... the difference is
Just as the right to speak and the right to refrain from speaking are complementary components of a broader concept of an employee's freedom of mind, so too is the employee's freedom to choose his own creed the counterpart of his right to refrain from accepting the creed established by his employer. Therefore, in the present case, whether the flag is exposed to the public is not determinative. The forced association with the flag violates the plaintiffs right not to associate with the speech of others, in this case his employer. The right to proselytize an ideology guarantees the concomitant right to decline to foster such concepts. Board of Education v. Barnette, supra, 319 U.S. 633-34 (right to refuse to salute flag at school protected by first amendment). Requiring an employee to maintain a flag at his workstation, regardless of whether that message is conveyed to the public at large, forces the employee to be an instrument for fostering adherence to an ideological point of view that he may find unacceptable.
I have some difficulty, however, with what I understand to be the concerns expressed by the majority— that is, that if all employees are forced to keep a flag on their desks, and the public does not have access to the workstations, then it is not reasonable to attribute
If an employer were to require all employees to keep a swastika at their workstations, even when other employees are the only persons to see such a symbol, the employer effectively forces the employees to associate with his speech and the beliefs identified with the symbol. The employer's conduct serves to create the impression that the employees either espouse the particular ideology affiliated with the symbol or, at the very least, do not find it objectionable. I appreciate the concern that when the only audience is comprised of fellow workers who have been forced similarly to present the symbol, there could be less risk of attribution to any single employee. Nevertheless, I believe that attribution reasonably could be found. I believe the problem is that in this case the symbol is the flag, something we are all used to. Were the symbol the swastika, however, attribution would be more apparent. Certainly, no one would comply with that requirement unless he were a true believer in the beliefs associated with that symbol.
Moreover, if an employee, like the plaintiff in this case, does not subscribe to the symbol and the beliefs associated with it, the employee is placed in the position of having to speak out against it, which, of course, presents other problems. The pressure to respond is particularly apparent when the employee takes a position opposed to the view being expressed at his workstation. To require the employee to specify the particular ideas he finds objectionable enough to compel a response would force him to relinquish his "freedom to maintain his own beliefs without public disclosure." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U.S. 74, 100, 100 S.Ct. 2035, 64 L. Ed. 2d 741 (1980) (Powell, J., concurring).
I agree that the Appellate Court correctly held that § 31-51q protects private employee expressions on the premises of a private employer. Contrary to the majority opinion, however, I would conclude that the plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts, which, if proven, establish a cause of action pursuant to § 31-51q.
Accordingly, I dissent.
MCDONALD, J., concurring. I agree that the judgment of the Appellate Court should be affirmed. I do so because, as Justice Borden points out in his opinion, property owners have first amendment rights. The defendant, United Technologies Corporation, Sikorsky Aircraft Division, as the owner of the premises, has the right under our constitution to express its views on the property free of government interference. As Harvard professor Richard Pipes concludes from his study of the failed Soviet system and other totalitarian systems, "[p]roperty is an indispensable ingredient of both prosperity and freedom." R. Pipes, Property and Freedom (1999) p. 286. The freedom to own and control private property is fundamental to freedom. Both the United States Supreme Court and this court have held that a private property owner may exclude the public from entering the premises and expressing its views without the owner's consent. See Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner, 407 U.S. 551, 567-68, 92 S.Ct. 2219, 33 L. Ed. 2d 131 (1972); Cologne v. Westfarms Associates, 192 Conn. 48, 61-62, 469 A.2d 1201 (1984). If property owners may control the expression that occurs on their own land, it follows that they have the right, protected by the first amendment of the United States constitution, to express their
In this case, the defendant, a defense contractor, desired to decorate its premises with American flags during the Gulf war hostilities. The plaintiff, Gonzolo Cotto, an employee of the defendant, refused his employer's order to decorate the area of the defendant's plant in which he worked, and he was fired for insubordination. If any worker employed by the defendant refused the order to hoist the American flag on a company flag pole, the state could not employ § 31-51q to forbid the company from firing that worker. This case is no different.
Moreover, the plaintiff objects in essence to being associated with a premises that displays the American flag. Whether it be flying on top of the defendant's plant, at the plaintiff's workstation, over the town hall, the state or national capitol, or at the nation's borders, the flag represents not only our government, but the country itself. If the plaintiff objects to the display of the American flag, his only real option is to leave the country where it is everywhere displayed. In these circumstances, the plaintiffs complaint properly was dismissed.
Accordingly, I concur with the affirmance of the Appellate Court's judgment.
The defendant filed a statement of alternative grounds for affirmance premised on the proposition that § 31-51q does not guarantee the right of free speech on an employer's private property.
We disagree, therefore, with Justice Borden's view that Redgrave sheds significant light on the outcome of this case. As a matter of law, we note that the court's opinion in Redgrave expressly eschews a decision based on constitutional grounds, finding "no need to discuss the existence or content of a First Amendment right not to perform an artistic endeavor." Id., 911. More important, as a matter of fact, in this case, unlike Redgrave, the defendant has not proffered a factual claim that it was confronted with the risk that its own views about the flag would be confused with that of the plaintiff, who is not a celebrity and who is not otherwise known to the public at large. We need not decide today, therefore, how possibly conflicting rights of free speech between employer and employee should be resolved pursuant to § 31-51q. We do not dispute the possibility that circumstances may arise when the rights of an employee under § 31-51q may conflict with the employer's own free expression rights. If and when that case does arise, we will be required to resolve any such conflict in light of the particular facts and circumstances then presented. Notably, § 31-51q contemplates statutory relief under the appropriate circumstances, because it explicitly limits its applicability to "activity [that] does not substantially or materially interfere with the employee's bona fide job performance or the working relationship between the employee and the employer...." The Massachusetts statute that was at issue in Redgrave had no such limitation.
It is true that Representative Tulisano, in his first set of remarks, used the phrase "on the job." Read in context, however, that phrase is simply consistent with the rest of that passage, the thought of which is that an employee should not be disciplined for the exercise of his "first amendment rights," when that exercise does not affect his performance on the job.
"Senator Owens: This bill, Mr. President, would make any employer, including the state or any municipality, liable to any employee who is disciplined or discharged because such employee exercises under rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution unless such activity substantially interfered with the employee's bona fide job performance, the liability would be for damages including punitive damages and reasonable attorney's fees....
"Senator Skowronski: Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, a question through you to Senator Owens.
"The President: You may proceed.
"Senator Skowronski: Senator Owens, what have been the instances or examples of such discharge in the State of Connecticut that would require passage of this bill which I think has many, many potential problems to it?
"The President: Senator Owens.
"Senator Owens: Mr. President, through you, in some instances private sector employees have been able to speak without fear of retribution. However, in many areas involving federal occupational safety laws, involving labor affairs where complaints have been made, there have been effects borne out on the employees. I hope that answers your question, Senator Skowronski.
"The President: Senator Skowronski.
"Senator Skowronski: Only partly, Mr. President. Have there been cases of discharges and disciplines? Have they been numerous? Through you, to Senator Owens.
"The President: Senator Owens, he has a second question, he wants to know the degree in which there have been any incidents, a more thorough explanation and definition of this.
"Senator Owens: Sometimes, there is not always serious abuses and there might not be a proliferation of complaints coming in, but in order to make sure that the rights are protected under the Constitution of the United States, and also under our State Constitution, we have to make sure that there is a warning and a safeguard going out. So that's why it makes it a very excellent bill.
"The President: Senator Skowronski.
"Senator Skowronski: Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, I rise to oppose the bill because I think it really has the potential for creating many, many problems. We are talking about the exercise of First Amendment rights, some of the broadest rights we have the Freedom of Speech, in particular. I think it is going to really create strain and uncertainty in the labor-management area and in the employer-employee relationship to pass this law and to say that someone can't be disciplined or discharged for exercising their right of free speech. I would assume this may give anyone the right to say anything to his employer or any other employee and say, well, I'm just exercising my right of free speech even though the exercise of that right of free speech may have a very adverse impact on the orderly operation of the business, and on the relationship between the employer and the employee. And this is not only going to apply to private industry but it is going to apply to all of our municipalities in the state itself, and I don't think that we should create this kind of or open this kind of a can of worms unless there is a substantial showing that a problem exists out there wherein employers or the state or our towns are disciplining or discharging unfairly employees for exercising their First Amendment rights. I don't think there is such a showing here, and I think that this is just going to create a lot of problems in the workplace for no good reason. So for that reason, I would oppose the bill and ask for a roll call vote.
"The President: Senator Matthews.
"Senator Matthews: Thank you Mr. President. I rise in support of Senator Skowronski's position on the bill. It seems to me that what we have here, as I think has been touched upon, is you have the First Amendment under the Federal Constitution which indicates there are certain elements which are available and free, ah, it doesn't seem to be necessary that we now have to identify that again in the state statutes by providing the kind of a bill that we have here which does, as it has been pointed out, restrict, in my mind at least, a lot of potential employer-employee relationships which already are being tied down severely. I am not going to go into further detail because I think most of the ideas have been expressed. I think that we don't need this bill in the sense that it is indicated in the comments of Senator Owens. I think it is a bill which just adds something more to something that is already in existence through the Federal First Amendment of the Constitution.
"The President: Will you remark further? Senator Streeter.
"Senator Streeter: Mr. President, I also rise to oppose this bill for the same reasons that Senator Skowronski outlined. It seems to me that we have the Federal First Amendment right to cover the general aspect and yesterday we passed the whistle blowing legislation which does guarantee that an employee who is trying to speak out against some sort of an injustice within his workplace does have that guarantee. And in the absence of any dramatic incidents as has been told to us about the need for this kind of legislation, I think it would be far better for us to deny it." 26 S. Proc., Pt. 11, 1983 Sess., pp. 3597-603.
I note in this regard that Senator Owens' references to complaints involving the federal occupational safety laws and "labor affairs," although referring to work related matters, do not necessarily involve statements made by employees at the workplace. Furthermore, those references were immediately followed by Senator Owens' reference to "rights ... protected under the Constitution of the United States, and also under our State Constitution," both of which involve protection only against governmental, and not private, infringement.
With respect to the comments of Senators Skowronski, Matthews and Streeter, I note that we do not ordinarily weigh heavily the remarks of opponents of a bill in determining its legislative intent because opponents may be motivated to point out difficulties that may arise if the legislative language is subsequently interpreted in a way contrary to the intent of its sponsors. Furthermore, the sponsors' lack of a response to the opponents' arguments is consistent with the view that, because the statute was not intended to reach beyond the constitutional rights as generally understood, the difficulties raised by the opponents were not valid.
Thereafter, moreover, Senator Joseph H. Harper, Jr., explained the bill in terms solely invoking rights guaranteed by the applicable constitutional provisions: "Yes. Mr. President. The bill would make any employer, including the state or any municipality, liable to any employee who is disciplined or discharged because such employee exercised any right guaranteed by the first amendment to the United States, that being freedom of speech, crafts, religion and assembly or of sections 3, freedom of religion, 4, freedom of speech and press or 14, right to assembly for redress of grievances and other proper purposes of the first article of the Connecticut Constitution unless such employee, unless such activity, substantially or materially interfered with the employee's bona fide job performance or the working relationship between the employee and the employer...." 26 S. Proc., Pt. 13, 1983 Sess., p. 4409.
In addition, the fact that an expression addresses concerns only about the particular employer, and not other employers, does not transform automatically that expression into merely a private concern. See, e.g., id., 413 (fact that teacher criticized her school district only did not preclude protection by first amendment); Knapp v. Whitaker, 757 F.2d 827, 840-42 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 803, 106 S.Ct. 36, 88 L. Ed. 2d 29 (1985) (teacher's protest regarding his public school's mileage reimbursement, insurance and grievance procedure policies was matter of public concern). In the present case, the complaint provides in relevant part: "The plaintiff ... gave his opinion on the propriety of coercing or exerting pressure on employees to display the American flag." (Emphasis added.) Thus, the complaint, when construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, indicates that the plaintiff commented about employees in general.