Thibault v. The Barkhamsted Fire District
Allegations that a worker was discharged from a volunteer fire company after she criticized the volunteer fire company on social media may be insufficient to allege a cause of action for violation of the right to freedom of expression under the Connecticut Constitution. The plaintiff's complaint alleged the following facts, which have not been proven. Allegedly, Larry Gillen, the fire chief of the Barkhamsted Fire District, grabbed the plaintiff's buttocks, and she slapped him and he made a comment about her breasts. Other members of the plaintiff's volunteer fire company voted to suspend her, after she allegedly criticized the volunteer fire company on social media. The plaintiff sued and alleged that she was denied her right to freedom of expression, pursuant to the Connecticut Constitution. In Smith v. Hartford, a 2000 decision, Superior Court Judge Thomas Bishop wrote, "Since the legislature has created an adequate statutory remedy in §31-51q which affords the protections of Article 1 §4, the court does not find that there exists a separate constitutional claim for the violation of free speech." The plaintiff did not allege that she was expelled in violation of C.G.S. §31-51q or that a municipal ordinance or other legislative activity violated her right to engage in protected expression. The court found that Article First, §§4, 5 and 14 of the Connecticut Constitution do not provide a cause of action, and it granted the defendants' motion to strike. Allegations that the plaintiff's supervisor issued numerous, inappropriate, sexual remarks and that the fire district discharged the plaintiff when she complained were sufficient to allege intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court denied the defendants' motion to strike the plaintiff's emotional-distress count.