A police officer who was fired last year over the department’s vaccine mandate can bring a complaint to arbitration, according to a new decision by the Connecticut Department of Labor Arbitration Panel.
Connor Dupuis was a police officer with the Town of Windham/Willimantic from June 2015 to February 2022.
In September 2021, the town updated its COVID-19 vaccination policy to require that all employees receive either a vaccination or an exemption for medical or religious reasons. The updates were made after conversations with town bargaining groups, but the police union did not submit objections, according to the Department of Labor ruling.
Dupius tried to obtain a religious exemption twice – once in October and again in November – but was denied, and did not then receive the vaccine as the policy required. In December, he was notified that if he did not receive the vaccine he would be terminated, but his union got the town to agree to keep him on while using his available compensatory time in an effort to continue negotiations.
Those negotiations failed to reach a resolution and in February Dupius was officially let go from his position.
Following his termination, the union filed a grievance with the Department of Labor, claiming that Dupius was fired without proper cause. A short time later, Dupius, through his legal counsel, filed a human rights complaint, arguing that he was discriminated against due to his religion.
After some back and forth between Dupius, the town, and the Department of Labor, it was determined that the former officer would be allowed to bring his grievance to arbitration to seek further recourse.
This is the first instance of a Connecticut police officer or firefighter being fired for not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Across the country, however, police departments frequently challenged or protested city and town vaccine mandates.
In Massachusetts, seven state troopers who lost their jobs over the issue were reinstated after their arbitration found that the state violated their sincerely held religious beliefs.