Sunday, August 16, 2015

Court confirms arbitrator's award upholding discipline for false statements in grievance documents

In April 2014, Arbitrator Harry S. Crump issued an award upholding the discipline of a Blaine, MN police officer for making false statements in her grievance. That award is discussed here. The officer had received a reprimand for allegedly working a “Reimbursable Police Services” assignment (i.e. overtime paid by a private entity) while on call. Blaine PD policy allowed on call officers to work this overtime provided they arranged for another officer to cover their on call duties. In the grievance challenging the reprimand, grievant asserted that she had made arrangements with “JS," another officer, to cover her  on call assignment and had informed her Sergeant of the change. Concerned about an apparent discrepancy between between the statement in the grievance and grievant’s previous statements, a Blaine Lieutenant arranged for an internal affairs investigation. That investigation concluded that the representations in the grievance were false, and as a result the Chief  imposed a four day disciplinary suspension. 

 Arbitrator Crump denied the grievance over the suspension, concluding:

there is no allowance in B.P.D. policies or [the Public Employment Labor Relations Act] for law enforcement officers to make false statements. The right to file a grievance does not provide a law enforcement officer with the right to make a false statement, nor insulate them from disciplinary action for violating B.P.D. policies and expectations relative to truthfulness. The Grievant did not claim on her grievance that she was "treated unfairly." The Grievant make [sic] affirmative representations that were false. The undersigned opines that the Employer has satisfied the Public Policy purpose to promote orderly and constructive relationships between all public employers and their employees.

The Union sought to set aside the Award as contrary to public policy. The Union claimed that disciplining an employee for statements made in the grievance process undermined what it believed to be an explicit public policy promoting resolution of workplace disputes through the use of grievance arbitration.

The district court rejected this effort, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals has now affirmed. Law Enforcement Services, Inc. v. Blaine Police Department

The Court summarized the Unions position:

the union asks us to recognize a PELRA-based public policy that prohibits a public employer from disciplining an employee based on the employee's statements in a grievance. The union argues that "PELRA's public policy [prohibits] a public employer from disciplining a grievant for lying in her grievance." 

The court declined to accept this position. Noting the limited scope of review of arbitration awards, and the Union’s inability to identify any explicit public policy supporting its position the Court concluded:

The arbitration award in this case does not explicitly conflict with PELRA's policy favoring grievance arbitration because the dispute between [Grievant] and the department was resolved in grievance arbitration. In fact, the award does not explicitly conflict with any of PELRA's provisions: although PELRA sets forth a public policy favoring the use of grievance arbitration to resolve disputes between public employers and employees, it does not prohibit discipline based on statements in a grievance. 

The Court therefore affirmed the district court's order confirming the arbitration award. 

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