Sunday, May 25, 2014

Court upholds reinstatement of police office denied license to carry a weapon.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court has affirmed the enforcement of the award of Arbitrator Roberta Golick reinstating a police officer terminated after the Police Chief for the City of Worcester, Mass. refused to issue him a license to carry a weapon. Grievant had initially been terminated following an altercation at his home in which he pointed his weapon at three teenagers. While the incident was being investigated, the Chief purported to suspend grievant's license to carry. Ultimately the Chief denied grievant a license, deeming him an "unsuitable person."

 Arbitrator Richard Higgins sustained a grievance over the termination and ordered the grievant's reinstatement. After that award, the Chief again terminated the employment of grievant, in part because he did not possess a license to carry. The Union again grieved, and Arbitrator Golick ordered his reinstatement. These two awards are discussed here.

The city sought to set aside Arbitrator Golick's award, but their efforts were rejected by the superior court. The Appeals Court has now affirmed.

The Court summarized the award of Arbitrator Golick as follows:

The arbitrator concluded that `[j]ust cause for dismissal is not established by the unadorned fact that a chief exercises his discretion to refuse to issue an employee a firearm,' because, if that were all that was needed to dismiss a police officer, the officer's `contractual right not to be discharged except for just cause is meaningless.' The arbitrator further concluded that the police chief `may be free to exercise his claimed authority to refuse to permit Rawlston to carry a weapon. But in the realm of just cause, which is the contractual standard for dismissal, the City's reliance on an alleged `disqualification' that the Chief himself decided to impose so as to prevent Rawlston from reinstatement was capricious and does not meet the test of contractual fairness.' 

Like the Superior Court, the Appeals Court found no public policy issue warranting setting the award aside. As it had in connection with the appeal of the initial decision of Arbitrator Higgins (O'Brien v. New England Police Benevolent Assn., Local 911), the Court found "the factual and legal underpinnings necessary to the application of the public policy exception are lacking."

The Court's opinion in City of Worcester v. New England Police Benevolent Assn. Local 911 can be found here.

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