Sunday, May 31, 2015

Arbitrator rejects grievance but imposes a remedy - Union succeeds in vacating award

The cba between North Memorial Health Care and The Minnesota Nurses Association provides that an employee with thirty years service cannot be required to work weekends unless compliance would "deprive patients of needed nursing service." When grievant reached her thirty year mark she requested to be exempt from weekend work. Her request was denied, however, because the institution deemed the request inconsistent with necessary patient care. The Union grieved the denial, and the dispute was submitted to Arbitrator Richard John Miller.

Arbitrator Miller denied the grievance, finding that the contract expressly allowed the institution to invoke a patient care exception. He noted, however, that it would be arbitrary  and discriminatory to allow the Medical Center to deny grievant the opportunity to decline weekend work while allowing other, similarly situated employees, to do so. Accordingly he ordered that "if [North Memorial] invokes the 'exception' proviso to compel qualifying nurses to work on weekends the number of required weekends shall be equally shared (divided) among those qualifying nurses. . . ."

 MNA moved to vacate the award. The Union claimed that the Arbitrator had exceeded his authority by deciding an issue not submitted to him, and by effectively nullifying other provisions of the cba which prohibited a change in a nurse's written work schedule without the employee's consent.

The District Court agreed with both claims. It determined first  that:

The record reflects that neither party expressly asked the arbitrator to devise a remedy in the event he found a violation of the CBA. Of course, it may be implied that the parties agreed a remedy should issue if a violation occurred, as MNA suggested various scenarios in which it believed North Memorial could meet patient care needs while still offering the no weekend work benefit to Drake. ... Here, however, Miller found no violation but nonetheless imposed additional obligations on the parties. ... There is no indication that the parties intended Miller to issue a remedy without first finding a violation on the part of North Memorial. Indeed, Miller's own issue statement premised fashioning an appropriate remedy on first finding a CBA violation. .... Because Miller strayed beyond the issues submitted to him, vacatur is warranted.

The Court also agreed that by requiring North Memorial to divide weekend shifts equally among nurses who qualify for the no weekend benefit the award nullified other articles of the cba. The Court found this to be an independent basis for setting aside the award. 

The Court's decision in Minnesota Nurses Association v. North Memorial Health Care and North Memorial Medical Center can be found here.

Update: The Eight Circuit has affirmed the District Court's decision here.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Rhode Island Supreme Court finds arbitrator improperly ignored management-rights clause

Grievant was an officer for the Rhode Island Department of Corrections. The Department received information that two officers were smoking marijuana in a department vehicle while on duty. An investigation uncovered that one officer had in fact been smoking marijuana in the vehicle, and the second, the grievant, had been in the vehicle but had failed to report the incident. Grievant repeatedly denied seeing the other officer smoking until he was advised that of the existence of a witness, at which time he admitted that the other officer had been smoking marijuana on duty.  Grievant's employment was terminated for failing to report that the officer was smoking marijuana on duty and for dishonesty during the investigation.

 The dispute was pursued to arbitration and an arbitrator converted the termination to a 60 day suspension. In doing so the arbitrator noted that the cba did not contain a schedule of offenses and related discipline and he relied instead on evidence submitted concerning a prior incident of claimed dishonesty which resulted in a suspension. The arbitrator observed:

[i]f, over an extended period of time, management has responded to a particular type of offense with a range or band of discipline based on the individual circumstances and severity of a case, an arbitrator would be hard[-]pressed to go outside that defined spectrum of penalties unless the offense itself is significantly outside said spectrum.

The Department sought review of the decision, and the Superior Court vacated the award finding that the decision was based on a "manifest disregard" of the cba.  It concluded that the arbitrator had "exceeded his authority and reached an irrational result" when he ignored the management rights provision of the cba.

The Union appealed to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, which has now affirmed the lower court's decision.  The Supreme Court determined:

Here, the arbitrator did not resolve the dispute based on any provisions in the CBA. In fact, the arbitrator decided—improperly we conclude—that, because the CBA did not list offenses and corresponding penalties, he would not rely on the CBA in making his decision and instead would "look elsewhere for guidance on this question" to reach this result. Not only is the CBA pertinent to the determination of just cause in this case, the arbitrator's failure to consider its terms was a manifest disregard of the contract.

The Management Rights section of the CBA, specifically section 4.1A., provides that
"the employer shall have the exclusive right, subject to the provisions of this [CBA] and consistent with applicable laws and regulations: * * * To hire, promote, transfer, assign, and retain employees in positions within the bargaining unit, and to suspend, demote, discharge or take other disciplinary action against such employees[.]" (Emphasis added.)

The arbitrator wholly overlooked this section of the CBA in his decision.

 The Court rejected the Union's argument that the lower court had incorrectly found that the management rights clause superseded the just cause provision, observing:

 ...we do not agree with this characterization of the trial justice's determination. The trial justice concluded that the arbitrator exceeded his authority when he manifestly disregarded the management-rights provision of the CBA, not that the management-rights provision trumped the just-cause provision. We agree with her conclusion.

 Two justices "respectfully, but nonetheless forcefully," dissented. They believed that the majority was improperly substituting its judgment for that of the arbitrator and that the award was well within the arbitrator's authority to decide whether there was just cause for the discipline.

The Court's opinion in State of Rhode Island Department of Corrections v. Rhode Island Brotherhood of Corrections Officers can be found here.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Quick Hits - Law Enforcement

Officer's growing large amount of marijuana doesn't justify immediate dismissal

Grievant was employed as a police officer for the City of Buffalo. He was the subject of criminal and internal affairs investigations which revealed that he was growing large amounts of marijuana in a warehouse. He had visited the area of the warehouse on several occasions in his police vehicle. When confronted with the results of the investigations, the officer acknowledged that he had been participating in the marijuana grow operation since before he joined the Department. The Police Commissioner summarily terminated his employment. The Buffalo PBA pursued a grievance claiming that the City had failed to provide grievant with the contractual right to an informal conference and a formal hearing before terminating his employment. Arbitrator Jeffrey Selchick sustained the grievance, noting "the [contract] language brooks no exception based on the Commissioner's perception, no matter how reasonable and well founded, that the evidence of an officer's wrongdoing is overwhelming and termination is fully justified." The Arbitrator ordered the City to pay grievant for lost pay until the date of his guilty plea, less a thirty day unpaid suspension the City would have been contractually able to impose while it investigated. reports on the case, City to pay nearly $220k to dirty cop behind bars, and links to Arbitrator Selchick's award here.

Public policy requires a determination of likelihood grievant will re-offend before reinstatement award can be upheld

An earlier post, Arbitrator overturns termination despite finding "unnecessary, unjustified, unreasonable" use of force because of due process considerations, noted an award reinstating a police officer who had been accused of using excessive force and of being less than candid with the Department. Although finding both of these allegations supported by the evidence, the Arbitrator found the delay in the Department's investigation and the failure of superior officers with knowledge of the incident to take timely action weighed against termination. Accordingly he ordered the grievant's reinstatement without back pay. The City sought to vacate the award, and the Circuit Court for Cook County granted the City's request, finding the award contrary to public policy. The Union appealed, and the Illinois Appellate Court has now reversed that decision and sent the dispute back to the arbitrator for him to make a specific finding on the likelihood that grievant would engage in similar conduct if reinstated. Clarification of the award is necessary, according to the Court, to allow it to "fully assess [the award's] public policy implications." The Court's opinion can be found here.

Sheriff's Deputy leaving official vehicle in the dark on side of highway and making false statement during investigation just cause for dismissal

Arbitrator James R. Cox has upheld the termination of a Sheriff's Deputy for parking his official vehicle at least partly in the traffic lanes, turning the lights off and then "intentionally making false and inaccurate reports of the circumstances to investigating officers." reports on the case, Ex-deputy's firing upheld by arbitrator, and links to the award of Arbitrator Cox here.

Dismissal of officer for discharging weapon while off duty upheld

The Connecticut State Board of Mediation and Arbitration has denied a grievance filed on behalf of a New Haven officer. Grievant was one of three off duty officers at a restaurant when the New Haven PD received a report of shots being fired in the area. Several spent shell were found in the area and it was determined that 5 of the 6 shells had come from grievant's weapon. The Union maintained that the evidence was insufficient to support a termination, or, alternatively, that lenience should be shown and a lengthy suspension be imposed. The panel unanimously rejected these positions noting "This incident was not a minor issue such as firing off a firearm in the woods by teenagers. This was an incident where a mature police officer fired off at least five rounds in the middle of a congested city where someone could have been wounded or killed by an off duty police officer sworn to uphold the law against such activity."

The panel's decision can be found here

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Connecticut Supreme Court clarifies use of public policy in challenges to arbitration awards

Since first recognizing a public policy exception to the general rule of deference to arbitrator's awards, the Connecticut Supreme Court has issued six decisions in which an employer has sought to vacate, on public policy grounds, an arbitrator's award reinstating an employee. The Court summarized those decisions as follows:

 In one half of those cases, we held that reinstatement of the terminated employee violated a clear public policy of the state. See State v. AFSCME, Council 4, Local 391, supra, 309 Conn. 521 (correction officer engaged in persistent sexual harassment of coworkers); Groton v. United Steelworkers of America, 254 Conn. 35, 36–37, 757 A.2d 501 (2000) (weighmaster at municipal landfill pleaded nolo contendere to embezzlement charge); State v. AFSCME, Council 4, Local 387, AFL-CIO, 252 Conn. 467, 468–69, 747 A.2d 480 (2000) (correction officer placed obscene, racist telephone call to state senator). In the other three cases, we upheld the decision of the arbitrator reinstating the terminated employee. See Stratford v. AFSCME, Council 15, Local 407, supra, 315 Conn. 50–52 (police officer misrepresented history of alcohol use during official medical exam); State v. New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, AFL-CIO, supra, 271 Conn. 129–31 (Department of Mental Retardation employee shoved agitated client into chair); South Windsor v. South Windsor Police Union Local 1480, Council 15, 255 Conn. 800, 802–805, 770 A.2d 14 (2001) (police officer deemed unfit for duty after drawing gun on trespassers playing basketball in school gym). 

In its unanimous decision in Burr Road Operating Company II, LLC v. New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199 the Court has, in an effort "to assure consistent, principled decisions," clarified the factors a reviewing court should consider when evaluating such a claim. The case arose from the arbitration of a grievance filed by an employee of a nursing facility. The grievant had delayed in reporting her suspicion that a resident had been abused. The arbitrator concluded that while the delay warranted some discipline, termination was too severe. The employer sought to vacate the award, but the Superior Court denied the request. The nursing home appealed, and the Appellate Court (in an opinion discussed here) vacated the arbitrator's award. The Appellate Court determined that the award violated the public policy calling for protection of nursing home residents. The Supreme Court has now used this case to clarify the factors to be used by courts in reviewing awards in the face of a public policy challenge, and to assist arbitrators in the types of factual findings they may make to assist a reviewing court in considering such a challenge. The Court synthesized a four pronged test for review:

Specifically, in determining whether termination of employment was necessary to vindicate the public policies at issue, both the majority and the dissenting opinions of this court have, either expressly or implicitly, focused on four principal factors: (1) any guidance offered by the relevant statutes, regulations, and other embodiments of the public policy at issue; (2) whether the employment at issue implicates public safety or the public trust; (3) the relative egregiousness of the grievant’s conduct; and (4) whether the grievant is incorrigible

Applying these factors to the case before it, the Court first found no serious challenge to the applicable public policy of protecting vulnerable nursing home residents. Concerning the second issue, the Court observed that it is a "rare case" in which the Court will vacate on public policy grounds an award reinstating an employee in the private sector. It recognized however, a limited exception when reinstatement of a grievant by itself would pose a serious threat to public safety (e.g. reinstatement of a pilot for operating an aircraft while drunk). The Court noted that residential nursing home facilities pose "something of an exceptional case" because of the state's interest in protecting vulnerable residents. It found this factor neutral with respect to vacating the award in this case. Turning to the third and fourth factors, the Court found an insufficient basis for overturning the award. It noted that, as found by the arbitrator, grievant had in fact ultimately reported her suspicions, and there was no evidence of a likelihood of recidivism. Finding that the Appellate Court had improperly substituted its judgment for that of the arbitrator, the Court reversed and remanded the case for consideration of a second issue not previously addressed by the Appellate Court.