Dill v. Ron's Golf Car Rental Inc.
A court can award a prejudgment remedy in a First Amendment employment retaliation case, if probable cause exists that the plaintiff will prevail on the merits at trial, after considering defenses, counterclaims or set offs. The defendant, Ron's Golf Car Rental, hired the plaintiff, Thomas Dill, who worked as a commercial "Class A" truck driver and delivered golf carts to golf courses, University of Connecticut football games, horse shows, weddings, university commencements and country fairs. Dill's child and his nephew also worked at Ron's. In 2011, Dill observed that a large, above-ground gas tank had been installed near a stream, without a fence, safety signs or fire extinguisher nearby. A relative of Dill's has had about 30 surgical procedures for second-degree burns, and Dill is very sensitive to fire issues. Dill asked whether the defendant had obtained a permit to install the gas tank and allegedly was informed that no permit was required. Dill called the police to report that a gas tank had been illegally installed. The police allegedly informed Dill that the defendant asked that he and his relatives leave the property. Dill called the defendant and asked when he could return. Allegedly, the defendant claimed that he and his relatives had quit. Dill and his relatives sued, alleging they were discharged, in violation of public policy, because they reported that a gas tank might not have been installed properly. The plaintiffs alleged they were unable to find comparable work, despite diligent searches, and requested a prejudgment remedy. (The defendant employer claimed the plaintiffs refused to work, because they were unhappy about wages.) The court found the deputy fire marshal agreed with some of the plaintiffs' concerns. The plaintiffs established probable cause existed that they were discharged because of their exercise of rights protected by the First Amendment, when they raised safety concerns about the new gas tank. The plaintiffs' speech did not interfere substantially with their bona fide performance or working relationships with the defendant employer. The court awarded the plaintiffs a prejudgment remedy, for loss of wages for approximately 16 months, in the amount of $59,292.