Ozols v. Town of Madison
The U.S. Supreme Court's Garcetti v. Ceballos decision may not extend to rights protected by the Connecticut Constitution. Michael Ott, who worked for the Town of Madison, filed a zoning application for municipal property. Marilyn Ozols, who worked as a planning and zoning administrator, informed Ott that the application was incomplete. The first selectman allegedly issued a verbal warning to Ozols. In December 2010, Ott became Ozols' supervisor. Ott and the first selectman allegedly were unhappy when Ozols expressed support for a union. In February 2011, Ott allegedly asked Ozols to change a zoning policy. Ozols wrote to the inland-wetlands officer and expressed concern that the change could violate Connecticut policy. Ott and the first selectman allegedly admonished Ozols. Ozols allegedly was falsely accused of refusing to take directions. In April, Ozols received a written warning and a three-day suspension, allegedly because she expressed concerns about inland-wetlands areas. In June 2011, the board of selectmen voted to discharge Ozols. Ozols sued the municipality, alleging First Amendment retaliation, in violation of Connecticut General Statutes §31-51q. The defendants moved to dismiss Ozols' claims pursuant to §31-51q and argued that Ozols' speech was issued as a public employee and was not protected, pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2006 decision, Garcetti v. Ceballos. The Connecticut Supreme Court has held that the State of Connecticut's protection of free speech is broader than that of the federal government. The Connecticut Constitution provides, "Every citizen may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty." The Connecticut Constitutional also provides, "No law shall ever be passed to curtail or restrain the liberty of speech or of the press." Analyzing this language, the District Court wrote, "The breadth of the Connecticut Constitution's language suggests that a citizen's speech is protected even when the speech is about her employment." The District Court found that the Garcetti v. Ceballos decision does not extend to rights protected by the Connecticut Constitution. The court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiff's claims that the discharge violated her rights pursuant to §31-51q.