A Connecticut law firm must face a former paralegal’s lawsuit alleging she was fired in violation of state public policy for refusing to notarize an affidavit prepared for her attorney boss because she knew it contained false representations, a state appeals court ruled.
A lower court misconstrued two provisions of state statutory law when it granted TJC Esq.'s motion to dismiss Helen Sieranski’s claim that her firing fell under the public policy exception to Connecticut’s employment at will doctrine, the three-judge panel said.
Connecticut General Statutes §§3-94h and 53a-157b both potentially cover the facts pleaded by Sieranski in her November 2017 suit, the panel said.
According to Sieranski, attorney Brooke Goff realized the firm had missed the deadline for appealing an arbitrator’s decision against a TJC client and asked Sieranski to prepare an affidavit for Goff’s signature stating that they hadn’t received the decision.
She prepared the affidavit but refused to notarize Goff’s signature or file the affidavit. She was fired about a week later, with TJC saying she wasn’t a good fit, Sieranski says.
The trial court dismissed the claim, finding neither law cited by the paralegal applied to the situation, at least as pleaded by Sieranski. But the “modern trend” is against subjecting pleadings to hyper-technical readings, Judge José A. Suarez said Tuesday.
Sieranski alleges violations of important public policies clearly articulated in §§3-94h and 53a-157b, Suarez said.
The trial judge found §53a-157b inapplicable because Sieranski wasn’t the affiant and it believed her claim was based on her refusal to notarize Goff’s signature, Suarez said.
But, read as a whole, her lawsuit can be interpreted as alleging that Goff knew the statements in the affidavit were false and yet he directed Sieranski to include them anyway, the appeals court said.
Siranski therefore alleged sufficient facts to state a claim that she was fired for refusing to make false statements to a court, it said.
Section 3-94a also applies because its plain text covers any official action by a notary public, the court said.
TJC and the lower court erred in looking to the section’s legislative history to find the law was amended to eliminate a notary’s liability for the content of documents they notarize. The section also embodies public policy prohibiting notaries from using their powers to help an affiant lie to a court, Suarez said.
Judges William H. Bright Jr. and Ingrid L. Moll joined the opinion.
Cicchiello & Cicchiello LLP represents Sieranski. Maria Garcia-Quinter of Westport represents the firm.
The case is Sieranski v. TJC Esq., 2021 BL 69773, Conn. App. Ct., No. AC 43272, 3/2/21.