Town of Stratford and AFSCME, Council 15, Local 407
A municipal ethics policy can prohibit disparaging words and conduct that affects the reputation or efficiency of municipal workers. On March 18, 2011, William Jennings and Sergeant Gugliotti were discussing a controversial union contract when Jennings allegedly complained about Captain Joseph McNeil and claimed that McNeil lied under oath and should not be working. Sergeant Gugliotti filed a complaint. The municipality issued McNeil a written warning for allegedly making false, derogatory and disparaging comments about a superior officer that affected the police department's discipline. The union filed a grievance and argued that Jennings' comments about union activity were entitled to protection under the First Amendment. The town objected that Jennings did not discuss a matter of public concern and that disparaging comments can affect the police department's effectiveness. The police department's ethics policy provides, "[E]mployees must avoid conduct, which might impair the reputation or efficiency of the Department." The policy adds, "[E]mployees . . . shall not speak disparagingly or discourteously of or to one another." Arbitrators found that Jennings' casual, off-the-cuff comments did not violate the police department's ethics policy. The city did not prove that Jennings's comments adversely affected the police department's efficiency or that he spoke disparagingly of another. Arbitrators concluded that the municipality failed to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, it possessed just cause to issue a written warning. Rob Serafinowicz represented the union. Garrett Denniston represented the municipality.