One of the handful of Office of Policy and Management employees who lost their jobs during the recent restructuring of state government has filed a federal lawsuit claiming she was terminated for political reasons.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, OPM Secretary Benjamin Barnes, and Malloy’s Chief Legal Counsel Andrew McDonald are all named as defendants in the lawsuit, filed June 20 in U.S. District Court.
The lawsuit is being lodged by former OPM Legislative Project Manager Jean Henry, who claims her job as a classified state employee was eliminated in part because she is a Republican.
But the lawsuit also claims the termination was motivated by a terse 2007 conversation between her and McDonald, who at that time was serving as co-chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee.
According to Henry, she, in a capacity outside of her official OPM position, spoke to McDonald in support of a bill that would have extended the statute of limitations for the prosecution of sexual assault cases when new DNA evidence becomes available.
Henry knew a woman who was the victim of a sexual assault and whose story was cause for the inception of the bill, the lawsuit said. New DNA evidence had come to light in her case but the statute of limitations had already expired, it said.
So she reached out to McDonald to tell him how important she thought the bill was, both for the woman she knew and women in general, the lawsuit said. McDonald wanted to merge the measure with another bill and Henry believed that would hurt its chances of passing, the lawsuit said.
Henry contends that McDonald did not welcome her input.
“Defendant McDonald reacted with anger at plaintiff, since he refused to support the bill unless it was linked to another bill he championed. When plaintiff offered her view that linking the two bills would certainly and objectively result in defeat, defendant McDonald responded angrily that he knew that was the case,” the lawsuit read.
According to the Judiciary Committee’s archives, McDonald and the rest of the committee passed the measure unanimously without amendment. It was later amended on the floor of the House and never raised in the Senate.
The intent of the bill was later passed into law in a special session budget implementer, which McDonald also supported.
Nonetheless, the lawsuit claims McDonald harbored lingering anger over the conversation and four years later when he had the opportunity, used the restructuring of OPM as a pretext for firing Henry.
“Defendant McDonald came to an agreement with defendant Malloy and defendant Barnes, motivated by defendant McDonald’s animus against plaintiff for her expression of her constitutionally protected view in support of that bill, that plaintiff should be terminated from her employment,” it said.
Her termination was abrupt and with little explanation, according to the lawsuit. On Jan. 5, the day Malloy took office, Henry was called in to the chief financial officers office and told that she would not be a part of the post-restructure Office of Policy Management, it said.
“The chief financial officer of OPM told plaintiff that there was nothing plaintiff could say, and there was no person the plaintiff could speak to. The CFO advised plaintiff that ‘the decision has been made,’” the lawsuit said.
Neither Barnes nor the undersecretary of legislative affairs offered Henry any explanation as to why she was being let go and her attempts to discover that information were “stonewalled,” it said.
But Henry and her lawyer draw conclusions in the lawsuit.
“The defendants Malloy, Barnes and McDonald had agreed to present the rationale for plaintiff’s termination as restructuring which was a meaningless pretext for terminating plaintiff’s employment, because of and in retaliation for her political affiliation as a Republican and her protected speech in violation of her First Amendment rights of association and expression,” it read.
On April 6 Henry requested to be reinstated to her position but that request was “unconstitutionally and unlawfully” denied, according to the lawsuit.
However, OPM Undersecretary Mark Ojakian said Henry’s position of legislative project manager is no longer a position at the agency. The responsibilities of that position have been doled out to a number of other people, he said.
Barnes acknowledged on Jan. 7 he never considered a lateral move for Henry, a classified employee, over to a position in another state agency, the lawsuit said.
But, armed with the recommendations of several Democratic lawmakers, Henry applied for a job opening of a similar position at the Department of Motor Vehicles, the lawsuit says. The position went instead to a non-classified, it said.
“It was clear that no person in the Malloy administration was going to employ the plaintiff,” the lawsuit said.
Henry, a 14-year employee of OPM, sustained substantial financial loss as a result of losing her wages and benefits as well as emotional distress, it said. She is seeking punitive and compensatory damages, as well as a court injunction ordering her to be reinstated to her position or another with appropriate seniority and benefits, according to the suit.
Malloy, Barnes, and McDonald are being represented by the attorney general’s office, which dismissed the claims.
“We don’t believe it has any legal or factual merit. We will respond in court at the appropriate time,” said Assistant Attorney General Perry Zinn-Rowthorn.