Sunday, March 30, 2014

Complaint under NY Health Care Whistleblower Law barred by arbitrator's award finding just cause for termination

The New York Supreme Court for Kings County has granted a Motion to Dismiss a Whistleblower complaint filed under the State's Health Care Whistleblower Law. While concluding that plaintiff was not an "employee" as defined in the statute, the Court also determined that the complaint was barred by an arbitrator's award which found plaintiff's termination to be for just cause.

Plaintiff was employed by Wycoff Heights Medical Center as a pharmacist. Her complaint alleged that her employment had been terminated in retaliation for her complaints of unsafe conditions in the pharmacy. The Hospital moved to dismiss the complaint on a number of grounds, including a prior arbitration award under the union contract covering plaintiff in which the arbitrator determined the termination was for just cause.

Agreeing with the Hospital, the Court determined:

[T]he prior arbitration award between plaintiff's union and Wycoff determined that the plaintiff's termination was for just cause, and not based upon her "exercise of any rights" under Labor Law Sec. 741 .... After a full hearing, the arbitrator found that plaintiff was culpable for misconduct on July 30, 2011, and concluded that "when evaluated as an additional incident in a sequence of uncooperative behavior justifying progressively severe discipline for recalcitrance and other unprofessional conduct [the Hospital] was justified in imposing increasing levels of substantial discipline, up to and including termination." Thus, as Wycoff argues, its decision to terminate plaintiff was predicated upon a legitimate, independent and non-retaliatory reason, namely plaintiff's culpable misconduct on July 30, 2011 and her past uncooperative behavior, rather than on any complaints plaintiff may have made about safety in the pharmacy...."

The Court rejected plaintiff's contention that she should not be barred from pursuing her whistleblower complaint since she was not a "direct party" to the arbitration, holding that a union arbitrating a grievance on behalf of a grievant acts as an agent of the grievant and the grievant is bound by all claims decided in the arbitration. This was true, the Court determined, even though grievant had not raised her allegations of unsafe conditions in the pharmacy during the arbitration.

The court's decision can be found here.

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