The following article is from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation’s bi-monthly Foundation Action Newsletter, July/August 2023 edition. To view other editions of Foundation Action or to sign up for a free subscription, click here.

CSPU union upended trooper’s career after he refused to fund union politics

Connecticut State Trooper Joseph Mercer

Joseph Mercer fought back with free Foundation legal aid when the CSPU union blocked his promotion because he challenged union political activities and told others about their rights.

HARTFORD, CT – In 2015, then-Connecticut State Trooper Joseph Mercer received a promotion to Operations Sergeant of the Emergency Services Unit, a position that gave him significant responsibility over emergency services training and field operations. Mercer gained this prestigious position through his seventeen years of experience as a trooper, which included a tense situation with an armed suspect barricaded in a hotel.

But behind the scenes, Mercer was a target of Connecticut State Police Union (CSPU) officials, who resented Mercer because of his resistance to funding union politics with his own money. After CSPU President Andrew Matthews filed two baseless grievances against Mercer, the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) demoted him to a position that offered fewer overtime opportunities and involved less time in the field.

Mercer slammed CSPU and DESPP officials with a federal lawsuit in 2016 with free legal aid from the National Right to Work Foundation, accusing police union officials of retaliating against him for exercising his right to stop funding union politics.

This April, Foundation attorneys forced CSPU and DESPP to back down and settle the case. Both parties must now pay $260,500 as a condition of ending the suit.

CSPU Union President Targeted Dissident Trooper Immediately After Promotion

Just a month after Mercer received his promotion, CSPU President 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. Matthews also filed a second baseless grievance, alleging Mercer had mismanaged the incident involving the armed suspect barricaded in a hotel. State police officials had never expressed dissatisfaction with how Mercer handled the situation.

In October 2015, after meeting in private with the union president, then-DESPP Commissioner Dora Schriro transferred Mercer out of his Operations Sergeant position to an administrative post. Prior to this demotion, Mercer had received no warnings, reprimands, or other disciplinary actions regarding the incident referenced in Matthews’ grievance. Mercer filed his lawsuit with Foundation aid in February 2016.

Mercer’s Foundation attorneys cranked up the heat on both the union and DESPP officials in May 2022, when a District Court judge ordered DESPP Commissioner James Rovella, who had replaced Schriro, to turn over additional documents that might provide insight into the circumstances surrounding Mercer’s firing.

Rather than follow through with the judge’s discovery order and continue the fight against Mercer, CSPU and DESPP reversed course and settled the case in April 2023. The settlement categorizes the vast majority of the $260,500 payout as “compensatory damages” due directly to Mercer.

Settlement Underscores Importance of Public Servants’ Janus Rights

“We are proud to have defended Sergeant Mercer’s rights and secured him a settlement that vindicates his free association,” commented National Right to Work Foundation Vice President and Legal Director William Messenger. “However, it’s disgraceful that CSPU union officials targeted Mercer, a dedicated public safety officer, with such a retribution scheme in the first place. Public servants should not have to endure multi-year lawsuits just so they can refrain from supporting union politics they oppose.”

“Situations like these demonstrate why the Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME decision, which the U.S. Supreme Court decided while Mercer’s case was ongoing, is so important,” Messenger added. “As demonstrated in Mercer’s case, unelected union officials often wield their enormous clout over government to serve the union’s self interests over the public interest and employee interests. That’s why it’s vital that public employees can exercise their First Amendment Janus right to cut off all financial support for union officials this way.”

Posted on Aug 25, 2023 in Newsletter Articles