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 discusses the award of Arbitrator John Popular which can be found 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.
Update: The Connecticut Supreme Court (here) reversed the decision of the Superior Court and upheld the decision of the arbitrator. The Court's decision is discussed at Drugs in the workplace, reinstatement and public policy. Connecticut Supreme court upholds arbitrator's award