The Connecticut Supreme Court will hear arguments today in a case against Swiss bank UBS by a former employee. In this case, the former employee sued UBS after he was terminated, allegedly because he complained that various assets held by UBS were overvalued and, as such, would harm investors. See www.wsj.com.
Mr. Trusz claims that he should be protected by whistleblower protection laws, as he was terminated after making complaints about company conduct that harmed its customers, which included pension funds. (Keep in mind, Mr. Trusz was fired in August 2008, as the real estate/financial market crash was about to tank the global economy.) UBS claims that he should not be protected by whistleblower protection laws, since he was just doing his job as the head of valuations for the company. The Connecticut Supreme Court held a few years ago that complaints that fall into an employee’s job duties are not protected speech for the purposes of federal law, since that would supposedly make every professional disagreement that leads to someone getting fired into a wrongful termination lawsuit. Read more here.
The question in the Trusz case is whether the Connecticut Constitution’s free speech provision provides more protection for employees than the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. There is a Connecticut statute protecting employees from being fired for speaking out on matters of public importance, and Mr. Trusz has argued that under the Connecticut Constitution, it doesn’t matter that he was speaking in the course of his employment; free speech in the public interest is free speech in the public interest.
Some have argued that extending this protection to employees speaking out in the course of their employment would somehow make it more difficult for companies to do business in Connecticut. However, it seems more likely that Connecticut employees would feel comfortable acting honestly and ethically and protecting their employers from the type of massive fraud that costs companies millions of dollars to clean up. Further, it doesn’t make sense to allow employers to fire employees who speak out on matters of public importance in the course of their employment- who is better qualified to raise these issues than a professional in the field? If it weren’t Mr. Trusz, UBS’s valuation manager, raising issues with UBS’s property valuation, who would? He’s the person best suited to protect the public interest in these circumstances, and this kind of speech should be protected under Connecticut law.