Stewart v. Town of Watertown
A public officer is not due her compensation if she wrongfully neglects her duties. Virginia Stewart, town clerk of Watertown, notified town council chairman, Joseph Pawlak, of her health problems which she attributed to environmental conditions in the town hall and demanded certain action. Stewart did not return to work at town hall or alternative worksites offered. The town notified her of the procedures involved for requesting unpaid leave and, after she claimed an exemption, that she would be paid until she exhausted her accumulated sick days. The state's attorney notified the town that good cause did not exist to file an action to remove Stewart from her office under C.G.S. §7-22. Stewart filed a complaint against the town and Pawlak seeking a writ of mandamus in the first count, alleging a due process violation in the second and, in a third count, seeking recovery of her lost salary. The trial court granted her motion for partial summary judgment on the first and third counts and issued a writ of mandamus ordering the defendants to restore her salary and benefits because Stewart was a public official and her salary was incident to her office and not dependent upon services performed by her. Following trial, the jury awarded her $243,264.87 on her non-constitutional claims. The court rendered judgment for the defendants on the due process count. The defendants appealed. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment, in part, concluding that the trial court improperly granted Stewart's motion for partial summary judgment. Even under the language cited by the trial court from the 1915 Connecticut Supreme Court case of Sibley v. State, a public officer is not due her compensation if she wrongfully neglects her duties. Stewart did not have a clear legal right to her salary without performing her duties and the issuance of the mandamus was in error. Additionally, although the town established a compensation schedule providing paid time off and a disability pay plan as permitted by statute, Stewart would not be limited to such schedule if she was willing to work but prevented from doing so by the defendants' conduct. The matter was remanded for further proceedings on counts one and three given genuine issues of material fact remaining, primarily, regarding compliance with the compensation schedule and the reasons for Stewart's failure to perform her duties. In a cross-appeal, Stewart unsuccessfully challenged the jury instructions on her due process count.