Sunday, May 21, 2017

Quick Hits- Police Officers' Bill of Rights, respirator fit tests, and an arbitrator's authority to modify discipline

City's untimely discipline violates Police Officers' Bill of Rights - Reinstatement ordered

Arbitrator Kenneth Starr granted in part a grievance filed by a Naples, FL police officer who had been dismissed for his alleged involvement in the disappearance of another officer's service weapon, and for allegedly telling a security guard that another police officer had been involved in the shooting of that officer's wife (also an officer of the Naples PD) and the shooting death of a third Naples officer. Arbitrator Starr found the first allegation unsupported by the evidence. Concerning the second allegation, the arbitrator concluded that "Taking into account all of the facts and implications contained hereinabove, the arbitrator finds the City was justified in imposing discipline upon Grievant, up to and including, termination."

 Nevertheless, Arbitrator Starr found that the City had violated Florida's Police Officers Bill of Rights, which was incorporated into the cba, by failing to take disciplinary action within 180 days of receiving the allegation underlying the purported grounds for the discipline. He therefore ordered the grievant's reinstatement, but concluded:

However, the arbitrator finds that an award of back pay in this case is inappropriate for several reasons. 20 Grievant in this case bore most, if not all, of the responsibility [for] the problem that resulted in his termination. Additionally, Grievant failed to mitigate his (back pay) damages and, in fact, provided no evidence that he even attempted to find work elsewhere. Accordingly, that portion of the grievance requesting back pay is DENIED in its entirety.
20 See: Elkouri & Elkouri, How Arbitration Works, 7th Ed., at CH.18.3A. iii and Ch 18.3.I. (2012)

Arbitrator Starr's award can be found here.

Eighth Circuit: Arbitrator's award reinstating bearded nuclear security officer not barred by public policy

The Eight Circuit has refused to set aside the dismissal of a Nuclear Security Officer who the employer concluded could not pass a required respirator fit test because of facial hair. Entergy Operations, Inc. v. United Government Security Officers of America The employee was called in for an unannounced fit test, but, because he had what was described as a full goatee, the facility concluded that he would be unable to pass the test. It relied on NRC regulations which it asserted required employees to be clean shaven. Arbitrator Robert Curtis sustained the employee's grievance over his dismissal. Arbitrator Curtis' award can be found here. The arbitrator found that by not at least attempting the fit test the facility could not be sure the employee could not successfully pass the test. He also concluded that Entergy failed to reasonably accommodate the grievant, who was suffering from folliculitis, by not assigning him to a post that did not require the use of a respirator/mask. Entergy sought to set aside the award as contrary to public policy (i.e the NRC regulations). The District Court (here) concluded on the record made at the arbitration hearing that  the arbitrator nether exceeded his authority nor acted contrary to public policy. The Court noted the arbitrator's conclusion that by refusing to conduct the fit test unless grievant shaved Entergy failed to establish that grievant's facial hair would improperly interfere with a proper seal. It also agreed with the arbitrator's reasonable accommodation analysis. On the Company's appeal, the Eight Circuit found it unnecessary to decide whether fit testing an individual with facial hair would violate federal regulations in light of the arbitrator's accommodation analysis. The arbitrator's factual findings on the availability of posts not requiring a fit test was supported by the testimony and Entergy's challenge on this point was based on neither the cba nor federal regulations, but rather on Entergy's practice and preference.

Ohio Supreme Court concludes that limitations on an arbitrator's remedial authority must be set forth in the cba

In its recent decision in Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association v. City of Findlay the Ohio Supreme Court addressed the question of whether a police department's disciplinary matrix, not contained in a cba, could restrict an arbitrator's ability to modify discipline as part of a just cause analysis. The matrix provided that if more than one discipline level was indicated, the Chef had sole discretion in determining which of the levels was appropriate in a particular case. The case arose when Arbitrator James Mancini issued an award finding "just cause for severe discipline" but overturning the Chief's termination decision. The City refused to reinstate the grievant, arguing that since the matrix provided for discipline ranging from a 3-10 day suspension up to termination, the decision of the Chief should prevail. The Trial court and the appellate court agreed with the City's position. The Supreme Court, however, concluded:

Although nothing in the CBA precludes the city from using the matrix as a guide in imposing discipline, treating the matrix as binding on the arbitrator would conflict with the just cause requirement for discipline that the city and the OPBA negotiated into the CBA and as in SORTA, would undermine the integrity of the entire collective bargaining process.

Because the parties did not specifically bargain for the matrix and incorporate it into the CBA, Mancini had authority to review the appropriateness of the disciplinary action imposed in this matter and broad authority to fashion a remedy.

Reversing the decision of the lower Court, the Supreme Court held that:

Any limitation on an arbitrator's authority to modify a disciplinary action pursuant to a CBA provision requiring that discipline be imposed only for just cause must be specifically bargained for by the parties and incorporated into the CBA.

Legally Speaking Ohio's preview of the oral argument here contains an analysis of the case and links to the arbitrator's award and the lower courts' opinions.

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