Sunday, June 19, 2016

Post termination conduct, just cause and public policy

The saga involving a sheriff's deputy first dismissed for allegedly stealing two potted plants continues.

As discussed here (Arbitrator rejects termination of Sheriff's deputy based on allegation of theft, but finds post termination shoplifting warrants suspension) the deputy was accused of stealing the plants from a city park. Grievant claimed she believed they had been abandoned. Arbitrator Dennis McGilligan, applying a "clear and convincing" burden of proof standard, concluded that the City had failed to establish grievant intended to steal the plants. However he found that she had failed to follow the department's policy on abandoned property and deemed a thirty day suspension appropriate. Reacting to testimony concerning grievants admitted post termination conduct of retail theft (shoplifting) the arbitrator noted that while there was little information in the record concerning the incident he deemed a sixty day suspension appropriate.

The Sheriff's office sought to vacate the award, arguing that the arbitrator utilized the wrong standard of proof and improperly ruled on the shoplifting incident. The court remanded the matter back to Arbitrator McGilligan for reconsideration under a preponderance of the evidence standard, and also agreed with the Sheriff that the shoplifting incident had been improperly considered. On remand the arbitrator again found a thirty day suspension warranted for the claimed plant theft.

The Sheriff's office reinstated grievant in accord with the award but dismissed her for the shoplifting incident.

The propriety of that  termination was submitted to Arbitrator Timothy Tobin. Arbitrator Tobin found that the second termination was also without just cause. (Arbitrator: Misconduct between initial termination and reinstatement no basis for post reinstatement termination). He found that since grievant was not employed by the Sheriff at the time of the incident there was no basis for discipline. He ordered her reinstatement.

The Sheriff's Office also appealed this decision and, according to press reports, the Sangamon County court has overturned the award. (Decision upholds terminationJudge rules sheriff doesn't have to reinstate Sangamon County deputy fired after theft). According to the reports, Judge John Schmidt concluded that the arbitrator's award "is repugnant to the firm, clear and resolute public policy against retail theft" He observed that such acts "are more disturbing when committed by law enforcement officers sworn to uphold the law." Accordingly he found that required grievant's reinstatement would be contrary to public policy.

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