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Connecticut Supreme Court Finds Wrongful Termination—Rules CCSU Must Re-Hire Former Administrator

According to a report from the Hartford Courant, the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) must re-hire former former director of student conduct Christopher Dukes. In a split decision, the majority for the state’s highest court found that a lower court judge improperly vacated the decision of the arbitration panel. Within this blog post, our Connecticut wrongful termination discusses the case in more detail. 

Former CCSU Administrative Employee Terminated After Allegations of Domestic Violence

Christopher Dukes, a former administrator at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU), was terminated after allegations of domestic violence and a standoff with law enforcement. The incident happened in April 2018, Mr. Dukes was accused of kidnapping and assaulting his wife and was, following a multi-hour standoff with police, arrested. 

With that being said, the criminal charges against him were later dropped. He has never been convicted of a criminal offense in relation to this matter. As reported by the Hartford Courant, law enforcement sources indicated that the charges were dropped, at least in part, because the wife did not want Mr. Dukes jailed for the sake of their children. Mr. Dukes consistently maintained his innocence throughout the entire process. 

Union Contract Included Arbitration Provision, Arbitrator Ruled for Employee

As an administrative employee of the Central Connecticut State University (CCSU), Mr. Dukes was a member of a labor union. He worked under a collective bargaining agreement (contract) agreed to between his union and the university. Notably, that contract prevented CCSU from terminating Mr. Dukes—and other similarly-situated employees—without cause. However, following the arrest, CCSU did indeed terminate Mr. Dukes. The university argued that it had the authority to do so and that the arrest, even with charges being dropped, was “cause” for termination under the character and conduct policies of the collective bargaining agreement. 

Mr. Dukes challenged his termination by CCSU. In doing so, he argued that his firing amounted to a wrongful termination on the grounds of breach of contract because his employer lacked justified “cause” for his removal. Once again, a key issue is that, while arrested, his charges were dropped, he was not convicted, and he consistently maintained his innocence.  As called for by the union contract, the matter went before an arbitrator. Upon review, the arbitrator found in favor of the employee. Among other things, the arbitrator required CCSU to reinstate Mr. Dukes, remove any disciplinary actions from his personnel record, and pay him over $200,000 in back pay. 

Lawsuit Filed By Employer—Lower Court Vacated Arbitrator’s Decision

CCSU filed a lawsuit in state court challenging the decision of the arbitrator. The public university argued that the arbitrator overstepped its bound and that it had good cause to terminate the employment of Mr. Dukes on both the grounds of: 

  • Violation of the character and conduct policy; and
  • Concerns about the safety and well-being of students and staff on campus. 

A court in Connecticut argued with the arguments raised by the university. Indeed, the court sided with CCSU and vacated the arbitrator’s decision. It allowed the school to terminate Mr. Dukes without compensation. In turn, Mr. Dukes filed an appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court. 

Connecticut Supreme Court: Arbitration Can Only Be Reviewed On Limited Grounds

After multiple years of legal proceedings—both arbitration and litigation—the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in favor of former CCSU administrative employee Christopher Dukes. It vacated the decision of a lower court and, in doing so, upheld the initial arbitration decision that reinstated Mr. Dukes to former position at the university and awarded him back pay. 

Notably, the Connecticut Supreme Court largely opted out of reviewing the nature of the allegations. Instead, the state’s highest court emphasized the legal obligation to respect binding arbitration agreements. Indeed,  the majority opinion argued that the Superior Court judge had inappropriately replaced the arbitrator’s judgment with his own. Though, it was a split court. Dissenting justices contended that reversing the arbitration was justified due to the severity of Mr. Dukes’ actions. 

A Lesson for Employment Law in Connecticut: Courts Almost Always Uphold Arbitration

There is an important lesson for employment law in Connecticut that can be drawn from this case. The Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision in favor of former CCSU administrative employee Christopher Dukes emphasizes that state court’s put a strong preference on uphold arbitration decisions. Indeed, the outcome reaffirms the principle that, when employment disputes are contractually bound to arbitration, judicial intervention is generally limited. In Connecticut employment law cases, courts will generally defer to the arbitrator’s findings unless there is an extremely compelling reason concerning public policy or a major legal error. As long as an arbitrator acted in a reasonable manner, their decision will likely be upheld. 

Why Trust Hayber, McKenna & Dinsmore for a Wrongful Termination Claim

Wrongful termination claims are complicated. As an employee who suspects you have been fired, laid off, or otherwise discharged in violation of state or federal law, it is normal to have a ton of questions about what comes next. At Hayber, McKenna & Dinsmore, LLC, we are a boutique law firm of employee rights advocates who are prepared to take the time to sit down with you, review your case, and provide actionable guidance and support. Our client testimonials and representative case results tell the story best. It is our mission to provide the absolute highest level of legal guidance and support to workers. If you have specific questions about a wrongful termination claim in Connecticut, we are here as a legal resource that you can trust. 

Contact Our Connecticut Wrongful Termination Attorney Today

At Hayber, McKenna & Dinsmore, LLC, our Connecticut wrongful termination lawyers have the professional expertise that employees can trust. If you or your family member was the victim of a wrongful discharge, we are here as a resource. Reach out to us by phone at (860) 522-8888 or contact us online for your completely confidential, no obligation consultation. With offices in Hartford and Milford, we handle wrongful termination cases throughout all of Connecticut.