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High court asked to review Conn. union layoff case

HARTFORD — Connecticut officials have asked the US Supreme Court to overturn a court ruling that said former governor John G. Rowland’s administration violated state employees’ constitutional rights when it laid off 2,800 workers based on their union membership in 2003.

Rowland and his lawyers said the case could have national implications because it would hamper governors and local officials during labor negotiations.

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In May, the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled that the Rowland administration violated state workers’ right to freedom of association and ordered a lower federal court, which had found in the administration’s favor, to decide on an award for the laid-off employees.

The appeals court also ruled that the unions and plaintiff employees could pursue civil penalties against Rowland and his then-budget director, Marc Ryan, individually.

‘‘We think that the case is incredibly important because the Second Circuit’s decision fundamentally changes the balance of power between management and labor in the public sector,’’ said Daniel Klau, a Hartford lawyer representing Rowland.

Klau and the state attorney general’s office filed petitions Friday asking the US Supreme Court to hear the case. The high court is expected to decide in December or January whether to take it.

In an effort to reduce a $1 billion state budget deficit, the administration warned union leaders in late 2002 that it would lay off the workers unless they accepted wage freezes. The unions balked, and workers got pink slips.

Union officials called the layoffs retaliation for refusing to bow to the administration’s demands and said union members were being singled out. Nonunionized workers were spared layoffs after officials froze their pay.

Many of the 2,800 laid-off workers were later rehired when other employees left state jobs. But the rehired workers often did not get their old jobs back and received less pay.

Stamford attorney David Golub, who represents the unionized workers, did not return a message Monday.

‘‘No state can penalize people for belonging to a union,’’ Golub said earlier this year.

A year after the layoffs, Rowland resigned amid a federal corruption investigation. He pleaded guilty to a corruption charge and served 10 months in a federal prison camp.

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