A former attorney with the Department of Children and Families received a settlement payout of $688,516 for wrongful termination and back pay after he was terminated in 2014 without just cause, Connecticut state auditors wrote in a newly released report.
The attorney, Dale King, received a letter of dismissal after the tragic death of 19-month-old Ayden Baskay in 2013 due to abuse by his father, Christian Williams. The story garnered state-wide headlines at the time and sparked an internal investigation by DCF.
According to a 2016 arbitration decision, King was part of a critical response team — or “red team” — set up within DCF to review critical incident reports, and the team was alerted when four-month-old Ayden was hospitalized at Yale New Haven Hospital for six days due to head trauma, spurring allegations of abuse.
Police investigated the abuse allegations but did not move forward with an arrest of Williams at the time because neither DCF nor the police could fully substantiate the alleged abuse by the child’s father.
The DCF team ultimately recommended the child be returned to his mother, Jacqueline Baskay — as opposed to filing an order for temporary state custody, a 96-hour hold, or filing an abuse/neglect petition — because Baskay was not the perpetrator of the abuse and did not live with Williams.
The DCF team recommended that a “strong service agreement” be in place with Baskay and that the child not have contact with Williams. Ayden would also be enrolled in community day care where workers are mandatory reporters of abuse. The plan was agreed to by the doctor treating Ayden for his injuries.
However, sixteen months later the child died due to further abuse by Williams when he was babysitting his son. Williams was ultimately arrested and convicted of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of risk of injury to a minor.
As the only attorney who was part of the red team, DCF’s subsequent investigation concluded King had not sufficiently notified the team of possible legal tools to keep the child out of harm’s way, had not sufficiently informed DCF supervisors of the “high risk decision” of returning the child to his mother and had not adequately documented his legal consultations with the team.
DCF’s investigation also accused King of “essentially” committing fraud through his submission of time sheet records and mileage reimbursements. At the time, King was traveling from his home in Pawcutuck to offices in Torrington and Danbury.
King retired before his termination date and, with his union, filed a grievance against his dismissal, arguing the state failed to call other team members as witnesses, that DCF’s investigation contained multiple inaccuracies, and that the team made what they determined to be the best decision at the time to return the child to his mother’s care.
“What this case is about, the Union insists, is an effort to deflect attention from any role individuals much higher than Grievant in the chain of command might have played in [the child’s] death and lay blame on the Grievant,” wrote arbitrator Jeffrey M. Selchick in 2016.
Ultimately, the arbitrator sided with King, noting that the legal options available to the critical response team working on the case were well known to all team members and that he acted professionally.
The arbitrator also found the DCF’s investigation into King’s time and mileage issues were insufficient to establish fraud, as the state had regularly been approving his time and mileage reimbursements.
King was ultimately awarded back pay for the years between his termination and a second arbitration decision in his favor in 2019. It was also ordered that King should be reinstated to his position in DCF, but the matter was not entirely concluded because it was unclear whether King could return to state service after he retired in response to the termination letter.
King filed a lawsuit in Connecticut Superior Court that was ultimately settled by the state. In total, King received $246,660 in back pay and an additional $441,856 as part of the court settlement.
Connecticut State Auditors faulted DCF for terminating King without just cause and incurring such a massive payout.
“DCF had insufficient evidence to support the employee’s dismissal. In addition, the department’s job responsibilities for the employee did not contain sufficient details to demonstrate neglect of duty,” the auditors wrote.
DCF disagreed with the auditors, noting that it was “a contested and complicated legal matter,” defended by the State.
“Moreover, the written Settlement Agreement applicable to this matter – which was negotiated by and through the Office of the Attorney General – the former employee repeatedly, specifically and expressly agreed that there was no final adjudication, admission or finding of wrongdoing by DCF,” the agency wrote in its response.
“Any subsequent determination to the contrary necessarily is based upon disputed facts, and calls into question the State of Connecticut’s ability, in this and other cases, to resolve litigated matters via settlement based upon the advice and assistance of counsel,” DCF wrote.
Williams was sentenced to 22 years in prison, suspended after 10 years, and five years’ probation.