Whistleblower Retaliation Complaints: Frequently Asked Questions
Whistleblower Retaliation Complaints: Frequently Asked Questions
WHO IS PROTECTED BY THE WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTION STATUTE?
As set forth in General Statutes § 4-61dd, any person having knowledge of corruption, unethical practices, violation of state laws or regulations, mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, or danger to the public safety occurring in any state department or agency or in any quasi-public agency may disclose such matter to the state Auditors of Public Accounts. Any person having knowledge of corruption, violation of state or federal laws or regulations, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority or danger to the public safety occurring in any large state contract may also disclose such matter to the Auditors of Public Accounts. A person disclosing such information is known in lay terms as a "whistleblower." A whistleblower should feel free to report such information without fear of retaliation.
When the whistleblower is an employee of a state department or agency, a quasi-public agency, or a large state contractor, § 4-61dd protects that employee from retaliation (or threats of retaliation) for disclosing the above information to any employee of: the Auditors or the Attorney General, the state or quasi-public agency where the retaliating person(s) are employed, a state agency pursuant to a mandated reporter statute, or, in the case of a large state contractor, the state agency that has the contract with the large state contractor.
HOW DOES A COVERED EMPLOYEE FILE A WHISTLEBLOWER RETALIATION COMPLAINT? An employee of a state department or agency, a quasi-public agency, or a large state contractor may file a written complaint with Chief Human Rights Referee at the Office of Public Hearings (OPH), 450 Columbus Boulevard, Suite 2, Hartford, CT 06103. You may download the appropriate complaint form from the CHRO website, or obtain a form directly from OPH either in person or by calling (860) 418-8770.
WHEN MAY I FILE A COMPLAINT?
An employee who believes he or she is the victim of whistleblower retaliation under General Statutes § 4-61dd and wishes to file a complaint at OPH, must do so within ninety (90) days after becoming aware of the retaliatory action or threat. Failure to file a timely complaint may lead to the dismissal of that complaint.
WHAT IS A QUASI-PUBLIC AGENCY?
For the purposes of § 4-61dd, quasi-public agencies include only the Connecticut Development Authority, Connecticut Innovations, Incorporated, Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority, Connecticut Higher Education Supplemental Loan Authority, Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, Connecticut Housing Authority, Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, Capital City Economic Development Authority and Connecticut Lottery Corporation. (See General Statutes § 1-120.)
WHAT IS A LARGE STATE CONTRACTOR?
A "large state contractor" is an entity that has a contract with a state agency or a quasi-public agency with a value of five million dollars or more. (See General Statutes § 4-61dd (j).) To determine if the employer is a large state contractor, one may be able to obtain necessary information from the employer itself or from the Office of the State Comptroller (860-702-3399).
IS AN ATTORNEY NECESSARY?
Section 4-61dd-11 of the Regulations of Conn. State Agencies indicates that parties may appear "pro se" (that is, by themselves) or may be represented by an attorney or other duly authorized representative as provided by law. Although an attorney is not required, parties nonetheless may wish to seek legal advice or representation. A party is responsible for retaining his or her own attorney. Neither the CHRO nor the OPH gives legal advice or provides legal representation to any party.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A WHISTLEBLOWER RETALIATION COMPLAINT IS FILED WITH THE OFFICE OF PUBLIC HEARINGS?
The Chief Human Rights Referee assigns each retaliation complaint to one of the Human Rights Referees, who will then meet with all of the parties at an "initial conference" within ninety (90) days after the complaint was filed. At the initial conference, the assigned referee will, among other things, explain the overall process and set dates and deadlines for the parties’ responsibilities leading up to and at the hearing (trial). (See website section on "Whistleblower Retaliation Complaints: General Processes and Procedures.")
WHO MUST ATTEND THE INITIAL CONFERENCE?
All parties and/or their legal representatives must attend the initial conference. A complainant who fails to attend may face dismissal of the complaint; a respondent who fails to attend may face default. Even if a respondent believes it is not subject to the provisions of § 4-61dd, it must attend the conference or face possible default.
MAY PARTIES PARTICIPATE IN THE INITIAL CONFERENCE BY TELEPHONE?
A party may ask to participate in the initial conference via telephone by filing a written motion with the presiding referee and serving a copy of the motion on the other parties.
Prior to filing a motion to participate telephonically, the moving or requesting party shall contact all arties to inform them of the motion and determine which parties agree to participate in the conference by telephone. The motion shall be in writing, filed withOPH and served on all parties. The motion shall: (1) state that all parties have been contacted and informed of the motion; (2) indicate which parties also request to participate in the conference telephonically; (3) describe the arrangements for the telephone conference call and (4) state that he moving party will be responsible for arrange in the telephone conference call and for all costs associated therewith.
Motions may be granted at the discretion of the human rights referee.
HOW LONG DOES THE OVERALL PROCESS TAKE?
Hearings (trials) are scheduled approximately seven to nine months after the complaint is filed, allowing the necessary time for preparation and other pre-hearing responsibilities. After the hearing ends, the parties may have an opportunity to file post-hearing briefs (written arguments based on the evidence and the applicable law). The referee must issue a decision within ninety days after the close of evidence or the due date for the filing of briefs, whichever is later.
ARE THERE OPPORTUNITIES TO SETTLE THE CASE BEFORE THE HEARING?
The Office of Public Hearings encourages settlement of any pending complaint. If the parties wish, the presiding referee can refer the parties to another referee who will meet with the parties in an attempt to facilitate a settlement. Settlement discussions are confidential, and the settlement referee does not report any of the parties’ discussions to the presiding referee.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE COMPLAINANT WINS THE CASE? CAN THE COMPLAINANT GET HIS OR HER JOB BACK? CAN THE COMPLAINANT GET DAMAGES FOR EMOTIONAL DISTRESS?
If the referee determines that the complainant was the victim of whistleblower retaliation or threats of retaliation, the referee may require the employer to reinstate the complainant,
and may order lost wages and benefits, reasonable attorney’s fees, and "any other damages." The phrase "any other damages" may be construed to include damages for emotional distress.
WHAT RIGHTS DOES THE LOSING PARTY HAVE?
If the referee finds that no retaliation has occurred, or otherwise dismisses the case, the complainant may appeal the referee’s decision to the superior court pursuant to General Statutes § 4-183. If the referee finds that retaliation did occur, the respondent may appeal the decision pursuant to that statute.
Prior to filing an appeal, under limited circumstances the losing party may ask the presiding referee to reconsider the decision. (See § 4-61dd-20 of the whistleblower regulations and § 4-181a of the General Statutes.)