In 2005, four laid off state workers filed a suit claiming that about 2,800 union state employees were targeted by the Rowland administration because of their union membership and refusal to accept concessions and their refusal back the governor's bid for another term.
The court noted that the lawsuit accused the Rowland administration of retaliation and "was in response to the refusal of the plaintiffs and their unions to support then-Governor John Rowland in his bid for re-election."
The state had claimed it could not be sued under the concept of sovereign immunity.
However, the court in its 5-0 ruling said there was an unresolved issue that can only be settled in a trial. It also said that the state failed to provide any evidence to contradict the allegations against the Rowland administration.
"At best, the documents (submitted by the state) raise an issue of fact and are not sufficient to refute the well pleaded allegations of the complaint that the termination of the plaintiffs' employment was ... in retaliation for their engaging in constitutionally protected activities," Chief Justice Chase Rogers wrote.
The governor had asked unionized workers to consider a two-year wage freeze to help close what became a $1 billion state budget deficit, but both sides failed to reach a concession agreement. Rowland ordered about 2,800 layoffs in December of 2002.
Some layoffs were canceled, and other workers were rehired to fill crucial positions or fill vacancies left by fellow employees who took an early retirement offer from the state.
The court said the factual dispute is over whether the layoffs were done for economic reasons or because those given pink slips were union members.
The high court's ruling cited the lower court's ruling that the issue that remains is why the layoffs were made.
"The plaintiffs have alleged that they and other union members were terminated because of their union status ... the state argues that those state employees were laid off due to budgetary considerations."
State officials and union negotiators did not immediately return phone messages Wednesday.