Four (unsuccessful) public policy challenges to arbitration awards
Courts continue to carefully scrutinize challenges to arbitration awards based on claims that the award is contrary to public policy. In Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority v. Fraternal Order of Police, Ohio Labor Council, the Ohio Court of Appeals rejected the agency's request to vacate an award that converted a termination of a CMHA detective into a thirty day suspension. The Court, with one dissent, found that it was bound by the arbitrator's factual findings that the detective had not used excessive force, nor had he been dishonest as the agency had alleged. Given these factual findings the Court found no basis to overturn the award. In City of Guthrie v. Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 105 the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals similarly rejected the City's challenge to the award of Arbitrator Mark Reed which reduced the discipline of a police lieutenant accused of improperly arresting the former husband of his girlfriend. The court found no public policy impediment to enforcement of the decision imposing a suspension rather than a termination. In Jersey City POBA v. City of Jersey City the NJ Superior Court found no "contractual, administrative, legislative, or legal authority" compelling it to vacate an award ordering the City to pay terminal leave benefits to an officer who retired during the pendency of criminal proceeding against him. Finally, in Cornwall-Lebanon School District, v. Cornwall-Lebanon Education Association, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court reversed a lower court's decision vacating an award as contrary to public policy. An arbitrator had converted the discipline of a teacher, who had a sexual relationship with a student starting on her graduation night and who was alleged to have lied about it, from termination to a one year suspension. The lower court concluded that termination would prevent future inappropriate conduct and that a teacher who had lied was not an appropriate mentor for students. The Commonwealth Court found that the lower court had improperly reweighed the evidence, and noted that the arbitrator had imposed an appropriate remedy for the misconduct he found. Accordingly, and "[k]eeping in mind that the public policy exception is narrow" the Court reversed.
Arbitrator finds exchange of racist and pornographic emails justified termination
Arbitrator James Reynolds denied the grievance filed on behalf of Miami Beach Police Lieutenant who had been terminated for distributing racially and sexually charged emails with other members of the police department. Rejecting the Union challenge to the timeliness of the investigation, and claims of disparate treatment and double jeopardy (arising from prior undocumented counseling and a demotion from a non bargaining unit position) Arbitrator Reynolds found grievant's actions "shameful and disgraceful" and sustained the termination.
Court erred in hearing testimony on petition to vacate arbitration award
The City of Norwalk, CT terminated the employment of a police sergeant who had allegedly informed another officer of a criminal investigation against him. The termination was grieved and ultimately heard by a panel of the Connecticut Board of Mediation and Arbitration. The panel (2-1) upheld the termination. In doing so it rejected the sergeant's claim that he had been subjected to double jeopardy because he had been reassigned to a different position after discovery of his actions. The panel rejected this claim, finding that no grievance had been filed about the transfer and that a transfer was not disciplinary. The Union sought to vacate the award, claiming that it was in manifest disregard of the law since it ignored the "long standing " principle that double jeopardy was part of the just cause analysis. The trial court ordered a hearing and allowed the Union to present testimony on the circumstances surrounding the grievant's transfer. After hearing testimony the trial court concluded that because the City had no right to discipline grievant twice for the same event there was no just cause for the termination. Accordingly, it vacated the award.
The City appealed and the Connecticut Supreme Court unanimously reversed. It held:
We conclude ... that the trial court improperly allowed Couture [the grievant] to give testimony on the issue and substituted its finding that Rilling's reassignment of Couture to the patrol division constituted discipline for the arbitration board's finding to the contrary. Because the trial court's conclusion that Couture was subject to double jeopardy was predicated on this finding, and because this conclusion, in turn, provided the basis for the court's determination that the arbitration award was in manifest disregard of the law, that determination cannot stand. Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court improperly vacated the award of the arbitration board.