Sunday, August 11, 2013

Court: Arbitrator can compel employee to resign

Grievant was a police sergeant with the Trenton, OH police department. His employment was terminated for events relating to his issuing a traffic citation to the wife of a firefighter from a neighboring community. After the citation was voided by the Lieutenant, grievant sent a "clearly sarcastic" email to him and complained to the Chief. According to the Chief and Lieutenant, grievant was instructed to take no further action until a meeting among them could be scheduled. Nevertheless grievant went to the home of the individual to whom he had initially issued the ticket and reissued it. He also spoke with the firefighter-husband, telling him that the Lieutenant's action in voiding the ticket was unlawful and that he may face criminal charges. Grievant also investigated the Lieutenant's use of an impounded vehicle using a law enforcement data base and meet with the County prosecutor while on duty. After a hearing grievant was deemed to have violated the Department's Code of Conduct and his employment was terminated. The Ohio PBA filed a grievance and pursued the case to arbitration.

The arbitrator determined that grievant's reissuance of the traffic citation was insubordinate and deserving of disciplinary action. She also concluded that the conversation with the firefighter-spouse warranted "some significant disciplinary action." The arbitrator additionally noted that the circumstances leading to the discipline created distrust among the three commanding officers of a small police department. As a result, the Arbitrator concluded:

The grievance is sustained in part and denied in part. [Grievant’s] discipline shall be reduced to a thirty day unpaid suspension but he shall not be reinstated to employment. [Grievant] is awarded back pay from August 20, 2011 to the date of this Award together with benefits and any out of pocket loss as a result of the termination of benefits from the date of his termination to the date of this Award. The termination shall be removed from [grievant's] personnel file and [grievant] will be considered to have resigned from employment effective on the date of this Award.

The Union sought to vacate that portion of the award requiring grievant to involuntarily resign. The City sought to confirm the award. The Court of Common Pleas agreed with the Union, and the City appealed. The Ohio Court of Appeals has reversed and confirmed the Arbitrator's award.

Contrary to the lower court, the Court of Appeals concluded that the award drew its essence from the cba, noting that the cba defined available forms of discipline as written reprimands, suspensions without pay, and discharge. The Court observed:

The arbitrator further concluded that, because of [grievant’s] conduct in relation to his commanding officers, distrust was created within the Police Department that could not be eradicated. In addition, the arbitrator explained the advantages and disadvantages of resignation rather than termination. While the arbitrator determined [grievant’s] conduct warranted him leaving the police department, she did not want to obstruct his future employment in law enforcement. Thus, the arbitrator made one remedial determination, finding that [grievant] should serve a 30-day suspension without pay followed by resignation from employment while having the termination removed from his personnel file.

The court concluded that the arbitrator’s holding that grievant should resign fell within the essence of the cba “which permits the removal of an employee from employment.”

The dissent would have affirmed the lower court, noting "I think it inappropriate to allow an arbitrator the authority to force an employee to resign from employment when an employer does not have this type of power."

The court's opinion in Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association v. City of Trenton can be found here.

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