Connecticut limits investigations and expands a time limit

By guest blogger Alexandra Rosenblatt.

If you are a whistleblower in the State of Connecticut, you may be one of the approximately two hundred individuals who have been waiting for months and months to have your claims reviewed or investigated by the Auditors of Public Accounts. This state agency is principally responsible for conducting audits of all state agencies. When the state passed its first whistleblower laws in the 1970’s, the Auditors of Public Accounts became responsible for investigating complaints of fraud, mismanagement, corruption, or danger to public safety committed by a public or quasi-public agency. Unfortunately, the Auditors’ office has historically had inadequate staffing levels. With the additional duties of investigating whistleblower complaints, the agency has experienced a significant backlog of cases. This summer, Connecticut’s legislature acted to address the backlog in a cash-strapped economy. Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy has now signed into law House Bill 6651. The new law allows the Auditors of Public Accounts to refuse to investigate certain complaints. The agency can reject a complaint if

(A) There are other available remedies that the complainant can reasonably be expected to pursue;

(B) The complaint is better suited for investigation or enforcement by another state agency;

(C) The complaint is trivial, frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith;

(D) Other complaints have greater priority in terms of serving the public good;

(E) The complaint is not timely or is too long delayed to justify further investigation; or

(F) The complaint could be handled more appropriately as part of an ongoing or scheduled regular audit.

While the law may, in fact, reduce the backlog and allow the state to effectively prioritize the complaints it receives, there are obvious risks. First, there is the risk that complaints may be erroneously rejected. It also puts more onus on the individual to disclose all appropriate information in the first instance to avoid the risk of the complaint being rejected. Furthermore, there is the risk that the individual will be forced to file his or her complaint with another equally backlogged state agency.

There is some good news, however. The new law increased the number of days one has to file a retaliation complaint for having blown the whistle. In the past, whistleblowers had only 30 days after the adverse action had been taken or threatened in order to file a claim. As of October 1, 2011, whistleblowers will have 90 days to file a claim for retaliation. While there are many states that provide whistleblowers with an even longer statute of limitations, the change is a step in the right direction.

There is one rather important wrinkle to the changes. When a whistleblower files such a retaliation complaint, they do so with the Office of Public Hearings, a department of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO). Because of State budget cuts, the CHRO has announced that “[a]ll cases that have been certified to Public Hearing after a finding of reasonable cause are temporarily suspended and all scheduled proceedings are postponed until Human Rights References are appointed to the Office Public Hearing by the Governor’s office.” It is unknown when hearings will resume. In the meantime, all cases are being put on hold and the agency is attempting to settle cases through mediation.

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