Sunday, January 25, 2015

Arbitrator: Homicide detective's inattention to cases provides just cause for termination

Grievant was employed as a detective in the Houston Police Department, employed in the homicide division. Upon his transfer out of that division his Lieutenant discovered that in a significant number of grievant's cases had not been updated and, on further investigation, determined that grievant had failed to follow up on a number of cases. The investigation concluded that grievant had also falsified records by claiming to have referred cases to the prosecutor or the grand jury when, in fact, he had not. 

Grievant's employment was terminated for, inter alia, inattention to duties, for untruthfulness concerning the records and reports, and for insubordination (in failing to follow instructions to bring in all files). Grievant challenged the decision and the dispute was submitted to Arbitrator Lynne Gomez for resolution. The Union acknowledged that grievant had not timely updated his files, but maintained that the City had failed to establish the other charges. It claimed that while some discipline was warranted, termination ("indefinite suspension") was unwarranted.

Arbitrator Gomez found that the City had established its charges. She rejected grievant's claim that his case load was excessive and his denial that he had been untruthful.

 Upholding the termination Arbitrator Gomez concluded:

The Union zealously represented the Grievant. However, the totality of the credible evidence presented demonstrates that just cause existed for issuance of the Indefinite Suspension, and that Chief McClelland's decision should not be disturbed. The full impact of the Grievant's misconduct may never be known, but the evidence demonstrated that it allowed murderers to remain on the streets; caused unnecessary frustration and heartache to the families of victims; and led Houston's citizens to question the Department's integrity. The Grievant's misconduct and lack of concern for victims and their families has also caused embarrassment to the Department and, specifically, to Homicide investigators, whose ability to solve cases may be hampered by diminished trust and confidence in the Department. 

The Houston Chronicle reports on the case here and links to the award of Arbitrator Gomez here.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Functus officio" precludes arbitrator from substituting new award for an earlier one

Ruling on cross motions for summary judgment, the District Court for the Middle District of Florida addressed the "unique question" of:

whether an arbitrator, having finally addressed the merits of a CBA grievance, may reconsider and substitute an award which substantively changes the result, after being mistakenly persuaded that he had addressed an issue which was not to be arbitrated. 

Concluding that the arbitrator's first award was intended to be final, the Court determined that the doctrine of functus officio precluded the arbitrator from reconsidering the award and substituting a new one.

The dispute arose after several employees of Verizon Florida were declared surplus. The cba provided (in Article XI, Section 2) that surplus employees could bump junior employees within the same or lower wage progression schedule. Article XI also provided that an employee seeking to bump another

must have the ability to perform any job which he/she seeks to obtain through bumping. If it is a job which the employee has previously held, the employee will be allowed a reasonable period of time for re-familiarization and, if the job is one which he/she has not previously held, the employee must be able to perform the job with minimum additional training.

At the arbitration hearing the parties declined to stipulate an issue. The arbitrator framed the issue and, after reviewing the evidence and the cba, concluded that two of the nine grievants had previously held the position they sought to bump into and that they should have been allowed to bump into those positions. He rejected the grievance as it applied to the other grievants.

After the award, the Union requested clarification, maintaining that two additional employees had also previously held the position they sought to bump into and should therefore have been allowed to bump. Verizon opposed this request and also sought reconsideration, claiming that the issue of whether grievant's had previously held the job they sought to bump into was not properly before the arbitrator, and that the only issue was whether the grievants would require more than minimal training to perform the job. Three days after Verizon sought reconsideration the arbitrator issued a substituted decision, captioned "Order on Cross-Motions for Clarification/Change and Substituted Arbitrator's Award. In the new award the arbitrator indicated he had been persuaded that his earlier award had, in fact, relied on a contract provision not submitted for consideration. His new award deleted reference to whether the grievants' had previously held the position and rejected the grievances of all employees. 

The Union sought to vacate the second award while Verizon sought to confirm the second. 

Ruling on both motions the Court concluded:

the issue which the original arbitration award addressed had been presented to the arbitrator through the Union's broadly worded grievance and he was therefore well within his authority in his original determination of the merits. And contrary to the common law doctrine of functus officio, the arbitrator exceeded his authority when he reconsidered and issued the substituted award. The substituted award is therefore due to be vacated and the initial award confirmed.

The court explained:

The doctrine of functus officio ("a task performed") provides that an arbitrator may not revisit the merits of an award once it has issued. Office & Prof'l Emps. Int'l Union, Local No. 471 v. Brownsville Gen. Hosp., 186 F.3d 326, 331 (3d Cir. 1999). Because the arbitrator acts only as judge for a particular case, the doctrine arises "based on the analogy of a judge who resigns his office and, having done so, naturally cannot rule on a request to reconsider or amend his decision." Glass, Molders v. Excelsior Foundry Co., 56 F.3d 844, 846-47 (7th Cir.1995) (observing that an additional rationale is an arbitrator's susceptibility to ex parte communications, absent the constraint of judicial ethics). There are three established exceptions to functus officio, which allow an arbitrator to: (1) correct a mistake that is apparent on the face of the award; (2) rule upon an issue presented but not adjudicated; and (3) clarify an ambiguity in an otherwise complete award. Brown v. Witco Corp., 340 F.3d 209, 219 (5th Cir. 2003); Office & Prof. Emps., 186 F.3d at 331.

Finding that the question initially decided by the arbitrator was within the issue submitted, and that none of the exceptions applied, the court concluded that the arbitrator was without authority to reconsider his decision as Verizon had requested. 

The Court's opinion in IBEW, Local 824 v. Verizon Florida,LLC can be found here.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Retroactive cba makes post expiration grievance arbitrable

  The cba between the City of Beverly, MA and AFSCME Council 93 had a term from 1992-2002. The agreement also contained an evergreen clause that effectively extended all contract provisions until a successor agreement was entered into. In Boston Housing Auth. v. National Conference of of Firemen & Oilers, Local 3, decided in 2010,  the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court held that evergreen provisions which extended the cba beyond three years were barred by statute.

In 2003, before a successor agreement had been entered inti,  a bargaining unit employee of the City was dismissed. The Union grieved and ultimately arbitrated the dispute. The arbitrator, in an award issued after the Court's decision in Firemen & Oilers, determined that the Court's decision should not be applied retroactively and sustained the grievance. The City sought to set aside the award and the Superior court vacated the decsion, concluding that there was no contract in effect at the time of the dismissal and that the Arbitrator was thus without authority to rule on the dispute.

On the Union's appeal, the Appeals Court  reversed and upheld the Arbitrator's decision.

Initially the Court acknowledged  that it is "axiomatic" that if there is no contract in effect requiring arbitration at the time a disputed event occurs an arbitrator is without jurisdiction to arbitrate the matter. After discussing whether the Firemen & Oilers decision should be applied to preexisting disputes, the Court found it unnecessary to resolve that issue. It concluded:

In any event, although we tend to agree with the arbitrator that Firemen & Oilers does not apply retroactively, and, therefore, would not invalidate the evergreen clause included in the 1999-2002 CBA, we need not decide the issue. The 2002-2005 CBA, by its plain terms, applied to [Grievant's]'s termination — namely, the CBA was explicitly intended to operate retroactively to July 1, 2002, even though it was executed in June, 2005, and the instant dispute concerning [Grievant's] termination arose during the life of that CBA. The parties' explicit intention to render the CBA retroactive belies the city's argument that it would be unfair or unjust to apply the CBA to [Grievant's] termination. If we were to conclude that the CBA does not have retroactive effect, we would undermine the parties' clearly stated intentions; in accordance with basic rules of contract interpretation, we refuse to do so here.

The  decision of the Appeals Court can be found here.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Police officers, "untruthfulness" and public policy

A police officer's claimed "untruthfulness" and the dictates of public policy have been the subject of previous posts here and here. (Discipline for untruthfulness generally is discussed here, here and here.)

The Supreme Court of Connecticut has now addressed this issue. In Town of Stratford v AFSCME Council 15, Local 407 the Court reversed the decision of the Appellate Court and essentially confirmed an arbitration award reinstating a police officer found to have been deceptive during an independent medical exam concerning his fitness to work.

Grievant had been employed by the City for several years. When he was initially hired the City was aware that he had latent epilepsy. It required him to complete a probationary period free from seizures, which he did successfully. In June of 2009 grievant suffered a seizure while driving a police vehicle, striking two parked cars. His personal physician cleared him to return to work, but the City sent him to an independent neurologist for an independent medical evaluation. That ime cleared him to return to work, but in reviewing the records, the City became aware that grievant had failed to inform the examiner that he had suffered two seizures, in 2005 and 2008, and further failed to disclose that he had been abusing alcohol. Presented with this information, the independent examiner concluded that, while he was unsure if grievant could be trusted to avoid activities (primarily alcohol) that might increase his susceptibility to seizures, he presented no greater risk than he had at the time of his initial hire. The City however charged grievant with lying during the ime, and terminated his employment.

An arbitration panel overturned the termination. It concluded that termination was excessive, but did find grievant's misconduct serious and denied any back pay. The City sought to set aside the award as contrary to public policy, but the trial court refused to do so. On appeal, the Appellate Court reversed (in an opinion discussed here) finding:

    the union concedes that [grievant] intentionally lied during a medical examination into the conditions that would allow him safely to return to work and to perform his duties as a police officer. The arbitration panel’s determination to reinstate [grievant] in spite of this conduct runs contrary to the well-defined public policy against intentional dishonesty by police officers in connection with their employment. ... Accordingly, the award cannot stand.

The Union appealed, and the Supreme Court reversed. Initially, it concluded that there was a public policy "against the employment of law enforcement personnel who have engaged in intentional dishonesty that directly pertains to their qualification and ability to perform official duties." It noted, however, that the next question was whether public policy required termination of grievant's employment. Concluding that it did not, the Court observed:

[Grievant] did not lie under oath and his dishonesty was not disruptive or repeated; he was not dishonest before his fellow police officers or while performing his official duties. He was not warned about the repercussions of his misconduct so he was not incorrigible, and the punishment that he received was severe.

The Court concluded that requiring termination under the facts of this case "would unnecessarily expand "the stringent and narrow confines of [the] exception' to confirming an arbitration award and 'swallow the rule' granting deference to arbitration awards.

The dissent would have upheld the decision vacating the award, observing:

[Grievant's] violation of that trust and confidence, by lying in connection with the independent medical examination, was indeed ‘‘very serious,’’ as the panel observed, because those lies bore directly on his ability to return to work and to safely  perform his duties as a police officer. Short of a violation of the criminal law, it is hard to conceive of misconduct by a police officer that is more serious. Simply stated, when {Grievant] placed his own perceived self-interest over the safety of the community by lying about his fitness to serve, he demonstrated that he is not fit to serve.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Arbitrator upholds dismissal of police officer for "untruthfulness" concerning DUI stop

FoxTampaBay reports on a recent decision upholding the dismissal of the head of Tampa PD's DUI unit for being deceptive concerning a dui stop. The report links to the award of Arbitrator John Popular here.

On January 24, 2013 Grievant received a tip from a friend (Attorney Adam Filthaut) concerning a potential dui scenario. Filthaut was reporting on the conduct of C. Phillip Campbell, an attorney adverse to Filthaut and his firm in a hotly contested local trial. As a result of the tip, grievant assigned two officers to stake out the bar involved and to be on the look out for Campbell. Grievant and Filthaut exchanged thirteen text messages before Campbell was pulled over. Another officer performed the dui tests, and arrested Campbell. Grievant initiated text and phone conversations with Filthaut advising him of the arrest. Exchanges between the two continued into the next day, with grievant asserting that only then did he then became aware of the nature of the relationship between Filthaut and Campbell.

The arrest received media attention and grievant spoke with the Chief on the 24th, but failed to advise him of the extent of his friendship with Filthaut. He acknowledged exchanging a "few" text messages with Filthaut. On the same day, grievant testified in connection with a motion for mistrial in the pending litigation. In his testimony grievant claimed that he had no contact with Filthaut after the arrest. Over the next several months the Department conducted an investigation of grievant's conduct. In March the Chief learned that in fact grievant and Filthaut had exchanged 96 text messages. On September 27, 2013 grievant's employment was terminated for untruthfulness.

The Department's policy on truthfulness, contained in a General Order dated May 6, 1994, provided:

As many of you are aware, under prior departmental administrations, the subject of untruthfulness has generated some controversy as to the appropriate level of discipline to be administered in such cases. This General Order is intended to provide a clear understanding of the Department's views on the seriousness of untruthfulness and the manner in which such cases are and will be handled in the future. The public, as well as myself demand the highest integrity and honesty of police officers....
Therefore, the General Order will confirm that untruthfulness is not tolerated by this Department and it will continue to be treated as among the most serious offenses which an employee can commit. Any sustained incident of untruthfulness of any pending or future cases will be treated in accordance with that philosophy and subject the employee to immediate termination. ...

The termination was grieved, and on September 20, 2014 Arbitrator Popular issued his award. After reviewing the evidence, he concluded:

In the arbitrator's opinion (1) the Grievant became an unwitting accomplice in the collusion of four attorney's attempt to "set up" Mr. Campbell for a DUI arrest, (2) was untruthful about the volume of communications between himself and Mr. Filthaut on January 23d, (3) misrepresented his personal relationship with Mr. Filthaut, and (4) deliberately omitted these facts in his report to Chief Castor.. In addition, his January 25, 2013 Court testimony, denying phone contact with Mr. Filthaut after the arrest, did not square with what he told the Chief. ... Given the events that unfolded between January 23 and 24th, he had to be aware that this could result in further investigation, and undoubtedly escalate to being a significant problem for both himself and the Tampa Police Department. Between the January 23rd arrest and January 25th court appearance he had a window of opportunity to truthfully provide all of the facts to his superior officers and/or the Chief. He elected not to do so. His failure to communicate all the facts to Chief Castor on January 24th, or thereafter, proved to be intentionally deceitful, therefore, is deemed "untruthful".  

Arbitrator Popular found no basis for the Union's argument that progressive discipline should trump the policy of immediate termination set forth in the Department's policy. He noted the absence of any evidence that the City had ever imposed any lesser penalty for untruthfulness since the policy was issued, and concluded that immediate termination must be deemed to be the "unchallenged norm" for cases of untruthfulness.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Medical marijuana, arbitration and the courts

In two recent decisions courts have vacated arbitrators' awards reinstating employees dismissed for use of marijuana. Both cases discuss the impact of medical marijuana legislation.

In Freightliner v. Teamsters Local 305 the U.S. District Court for Oregon granted the Company's request to vacate the award of Arbitrator Carlton Snow based primarily on the Arbitrator's reliance on the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act in contravention of what the Court believed to be the governing language of the cba.

Grievant had been employed as a material handler. After his involvement in a forklift accident he was required to submit to a drug test. On the day he took the drug test, grievant informed the Company that he had a prescription for medical marijuana that he had obtained a couple of months earlier. The results of the drug test showed that grievant was "under the influence" as defined in the Company's drug policy, which was expressly incorporated into the cba. The policy provided that being "under the influence" was cause for suspension or termination. As a result of the positive result, and his claimed failure to comply with the Company's notification requirement for prescription drugs, grievant's employment was terminated.

The termination was grieved and submitted to arbitration before Arbitrator Snow. Arbitrator Snow found that grievant was in fact under the influence as defined in the policy, but found further that there was no evidence that his work performance was impaired. According to the Court, the Arbitrator concluded that "in light of [Oregon's Medical Marijuana Act] an employer cannot 'discipline an employee (1) who ingests marijuana pursuant to a valid prescription, (2) does so on his or her own time, and (3) reports to work in an unimpaired state of being." Accordingly the Arbitrator upheld the grievance and ordered the grievant's reinstatement. Freightliner sought to vacate the award on the basis that the Arbitrator had exceeded his authority by relying on the Medical Marijuana Act, and that the award violated public policy.

In ruling on cross motions, the Court concluded that the Arbitrator "cited no credible internal authority [in the cba] justifying his reliance on the Marijuana Act and resultant disregard of the CBA's plain language about marijuana use." The court further concluded that the Arbitrator misread the law to provide affirmative workplace protection, noting that he:

seemed to suggest ... the Act permits parties to a CBA to regulate marijuana use only insofar as employers may forbid actually impaired employees from working. Snow, however, cited no statutory authority for the proposition the Act restricts how parties to a CBA may choose to treat marijuana use. Nor did Snow meaningfully link that proposition to the Act's workplace provision. Instead, he effectively applied his own notions of what the law should be, an approach tantamount to "ignoring" the law.

Finding that the award did not represent a "plausible" interpretation of the contract the Court granted Freightliner's motion to vacate. In light of this finding, the Court did not reach the public policy question.

In contrast, public policy was the primary basis for the decision of the Connecticut Superior Court in State of Connecticut v. Connecticut Employees Union Independent. Grievant had been arrested for smoking marijuana while at work in a state owned vehicle. His employment was terminated, and the termination was grieved and submitted to arbitration. The arbitrator found that the termination was not "within a proper range of progressive discipline" and modified the termination to a six month suspension and ordered the grievant's reinstatement. The State sought to set aside the award "on the grounds that the award violates the State's public policy on drug use while on state duty and operating a state owned vehicle."

The court first determined that there was a well defined public policy against the use of marijuana. It rejected plaintiff's contention that this public policy was diluted because of the state's implementation of its medical marijuana law. The court observed:

Although the defendants are accurate in stating the law, nothing in the records indicate that the grievant was prescribed marijuana. The arbitrator, in his award and opinion, makes no finding that the grievant was prescribed marijuana or that it was medically necessary for him to use marijuana to treat his depression and anxiety. As this court's review is limited to the facts as found by the arbitrator, the arbitrator's award cannot be confirmed on this ground.

On the merits the court concluded:

Similar to the findings of the arbitrator in AFSCME, Council 4, Local 387 , the arbitrator in the present case noted that the grievant's use of marijuana allegedly stemmed from "a number of stressors before and after the time he used marijuana." ... In addition, as noted by the court in AFSCME, Council 4, Local 387, AFL-CIO,, a progressive sanction of reinstatement suggested by the arbitrator in the present case would send the message that stress experienced in one's personal life somehow excuses the use of marijuana in the workplace. Thus, the arbitrator's award in the present case violates a clearly defined public policy.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Pay for Snow Days - Part 2

With record snow falls in the news, it's appropriate to revisit an issue first discussed in January. The earlier post, Pay for Snow day?- Same city, same storm, different results, discussed two awards from the Connecticut State Board of Mediation and Arbitration reaching different results on claims for pay for days employees were instructed to stay home because of record snowfall.

Since those two decisions, the SBMA has issued at least two other awards, involving the same town, the same storm, but different bargaining units.

In Town of Wallingford and IBEW, Local 457 a panel chaired by Arbitrator Douglas Cho sustained the Union's grievance. The award, covering two separate units represented by the Union, concluded:

Both agreements clearly set certain wages and hours and establish a normal work week as 40 hours worked Monday through Friday for Electric Division employees. Once the parties have agreed to certain hours and wages, the Town does not have the unilateral authority to decide not to pay its employees for work scheduled during the established days and hours. There is no specific or general provision allowing the Town to require employees to use vacation time in order to get paid for days the Town decides to close due to weather-related conditions.

While observing that there were not many examples of prior weather related closings which might establish a past practice, the majority noted there were no examples of prior weather related closings for which employees were not paid.

The second award, Town of Wallingford and AFSCME Co. 4, Local 1183, decided by a panel chaired by Arbitrator Nestor Diaz, reached a similar result. The majority concluded that while the circumstances were extraordinary, and the Town acted in good faith, "this does not mean that the Town has a right to deprive employees of a day's wage and instead urge them to take a vacation day to complete a week's wages."

Sustaining the grievance, the majority ordered the Town to make whole employees for lost wages or vacation time used.