A federal judge has just ordered Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella to turn over evidence in a federal retaliation lawsuit filed in 2016 by Joseph Mercer, a former Connecticut State Trooper.
Mercer, who is represented for free by National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, charged Connecticut State Police Union (CSPU) and state officials with knocking him out of a prestigious command position because he exercised his First Amendment rights to refrain from union membership and oppose the union’s political activity.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut ordered Rovella to turn over certain documents relevant to Mercer’s claims. According to the orders, these documents could be relevant to determining whether union and state police officials treated Mercer unfairly because he dissociated from CSPU.
Union Officials Fought to Remove Union Opponent from Prestigious Position He Was Qualified For
Mercer, a former state trooper, says he was transferred from his command position with the Emergency Services Unit because he resigned from the union and refrained from supporting its political agenda.
In May 2015, Sergeant Mercer was appointed Operations Sergeant of the Emergency Services Unit, a prestigious command position that entails significant responsibility for Emergency Services training and field operations. Although Sergeant Mercer had seventeen years of experience, in June 2015, CSPU President Andrew Matthews filed a grievance over Sergeant Mercer’s appointment.
Matthews’ grievance claimed that there had been no “selection process” to fill the position, despite the fact that none of Sergeant Mercer’s union-member predecessors had undergone any particular kind of selection process before they got the job.
Mathews also filed a second grievance, alleging Mercer had mismanaged a shooting incident involving an armed suspect barricaded in a hotel. State police officials never expressed dissatisfaction with how Mercer handled the situation.
In October 2015, the then-Commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services transferred Mercer out of his Operations Sergeant position to an administrative post. That new position gave Mercer substantially fewer opportunities to work in the field or accrue overtime pay. Prior to this demotion, Mercer had received no warnings, reprimands, or other disciplinary actions regarding the incident referenced in Matthews’ grievance.
Mercer’s lawsuit seeks his reinstatement as Operations Sergeant in the Emergency Services Division and compensatory damages for the decrease in his overtime pay opportunities. In August 2018, the District Court denied motions to dismiss the case filed by CSPU and state officials, allowing the case to proceed.
Evidence Revealing Unfair Treatment of State Trooper Must Be Handed Over
The court orders compelling discovery state that records about Emergency Services Unit team members in similar “deadly force” situations to Mercer’s “are relevant for the purpose of determining a central issue in the case: whether Plaintiff was treated differently by his employer than others in similar situations.” The orders also say that information concerning whether or not a “selection process” was used to fill the Operations Sergeant position clearly “pertain to the issue of whether Plaintiff was treated differently with respect to his appointment as Operations Supervisor.”
“By compelling discovery in this case, the District Court brings Sergeant Mercer one step closer to defeating openly vindictive and unconstitutional behavior by CSPU union officials and their allies in state government. They wreaked havoc on Mercer’s career simply because he disagreed with the union’s politics,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “We’ve been proud to fight alongside Sergeant Mercer the past few years and will continue to do so until his rights and career are restored.”