CTNJ file photo

Attorney General George Jepsen met with legislative leaders Tuesday afternoon and encouraged them to accept a settlement for damages resulting from former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland’s decision to lay off more than 2,000 unionized employees in 2003. The monetary portion of the settlement could surpass $100 million, depending upon a variety of factors.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously found in favor of the unionized employees in June 2013. Instead of pursuing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Jepsen decided to start negotiations with a lawyer representing the employees impacted by the firings.

A settlement, which would be crafted to give state employees still employed with the state more vacation or personal days instead of economic damages, could cost anywhere between $100 million to $125 million. Each employee who was laid off and didn’t return to state service could be eligible for $1,500, if the court approves the settlement. The named plaintiffs in the lawsuit could receive $10,000 each.

In a press release, Jepsen warned that the amount could double if they decide to allow the court to settle the matter.

“If this case were not settled, the worst-case scenario involving an award of damages at the trial court would result in exposure to the state of as high as $300 million or more,” Jepsen said. “Payment of that sum could be due in full as early as 30 days from judgment. Through this settlement, we believe we have reduced the state’s exposure by more than 40 percent and have structured payment of economic damages — by far the largest portion of the state’s exposure — over a minimum of two budget cycles.”

Jepsen withdrew a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2013.

The proposed settlement with the employees impacted by those layoffs would be structured in such a way as to defer the cash payments and in some cases offer vacation and personal time.

“Notably, the potential claims of over 37,000 union members for chilling their First Amendment rights of association have been resolved without any future payment in the majority of cases through a small award of personal leave time,” Jepsen wrote.

The leadership of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition applauded the settlement.

“This settlement doesn’t just achieve justice — it finally ends a dark chapter in our state’s history,” SEBAC leadership said in a statement. “Governor Rowland’s disrespect for the Constitution and the laws he swore to uphold caused terrible harm to our state. We look forward to continuing to work with leaders in an atmosphere of mutual respect for each other, but most importantly respect for the people we all proudly serve.”

Geneva Hedgecock, a member of Council 4 AFSCME and one of the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit, said that when Rowland closed her office in Bristol it was devastating.

She said Rowland took that year’s budget deficit “out on us by shutting down programs that were fighting the hardest for their communities. He laid off some of the most vulnerable workers in those offices, like my fellow state clerical workers.”

Hedgecock said she joined the lawsuit to “serve notice that we can’t abandon those less fortunate.”

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that Rowland and his budget chief, Marc Ryan, “intentionally fired only union members” and that the firings had a minimal impact on the state budget deficit that year.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined in January 2014 to take up a petition filed by Rowland and Ryan regarding the decade old labor case.