Council 4 Wins Connecticut Supreme Court Decision for SUOAF Member Chris Dukes After Six-Year Fight

In a significant victory that serves as a testament to the power in a union and perseverance, the Connecticut Supreme Court ordered the reinstatement of Chris Dukes, a member of the State University Organization of Administrative Faculty (SUOAF) AFSCME Local 2836, who was wrongfully terminated in December 2018. This decision marks the end of the union’s protracted six-year legal battle to return the former Director of Student Conduct at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) to his former job, an effort led by Kelly Rommel, AFSCME Council 4 Staff Representative Attorney.

The Court's 49-page ruling, issued on May 31, 2024, affirmed a November 2020 arbitration award which found that Dukes was terminated without just cause. The court upheld the arbitrator’s decision, mandating Dukes' reinstatement and full compensation for all economic losses, including back pay with wage increases and benefits. Additionally, all disciplinary records related to the incident will be expunged.

Dukes’ termination followed an April 2018 incident, after which all criminal charges against him were dismissed. Despite this, CCSU continued to oppose his reinstatement, leading to a drawn-out legal struggle. The Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) System's attempt to vacate the arbitration award on the grounds that it violated public policy was rejected by the Supreme Court, affirming the arbitrator’s original decision.

"So many people, including my family and I, have been praying for this righteous ruling," Dukes said. "Almost six years have passed since I was unjustly terminated by CCSU although I have been completely exonerated of any wrongdoing. I am beyond pleased that the Connecticut Supreme Court reaffirmed the decision of the arbitrator who took the time to review all the facts and evidence presented."

Local 2836 President Lisa Bigelow emphasized how this victory speaks to the significance and value of unions in defending the rights of all members.

"There is no greater role for a union than securing jobs and protecting our members' livelihoods,” Bigelow said. “This decision is a long overdue, complete vindication of Chris Dukes, who was terminated without just cause, in blatant disregard of the collective bargaining process and due process.

"This is a testament to our collective strength and dedication… and reinforces the critical role unions play in protecting the interests of their members." SUOAF represents over 950 administrative faculty in the Connecticut State College and University System and the Board of Regents.

Rommel, who prepared and argued SUOAF’s case before the arbitrator and highest state court, highlighted the importance of honoring collective bargaining agreements and arbitration decisions.

"As with every collective bargaining agreement, each party agrees to have disputes heard by an independent arbitrator but in this case, the parties specifically selected this arbitrator until CCSU had buyer’s remorse when the decision wasn’t in their favor.” Rommel stated. “Rather than choosing to honor the arbitrator’s comprehensive thirty-seven-page decision and the collective bargaining agreement, the state chose to drag the union through a lengthy six-year process only to arrive at the same original decision.”

Dukes, a CCSU graduate, looks forward to returning to the campus where he has spent most of his adult life. "My life was interwoven into the fabric of the CCSU community from 1990-2018 before I was abruptly and unjustly ripped away," Dukes said. "I had a strong connection with the student body, and I look forward to serving them once again as a major contributor to their individual development and overall success as the future leaders within our communities."

As Dukes prepares to resume his role at CCSU, his union remains committed to ensuring his rights are protected. "Chris has suffered greatly, both personally and professionally. The union looks forward to ensuring his union rights are protected as he is rightfully reinstated and made whole for his wrongful termination," Bigelow added.

This case is a landmark decision for AFSCME Council 4, making history by fighting and winning a Connecticut Supreme Court case, speaking to the quality of representation provided by Council 4 staff, as well as the strength of our 30,000-member union.

“We are fortunate to have a skilled and dedicated staff attorney at AFSCME Council 4, Kelly Rommel,” Bigelow said. “Chris and I extend our deep gratitude for the hundreds of hours Kelly put into preparing for and arguing this case.”