Sunday, September 17, 2017

Quick Hits - Fundamental fairness, racial profiling and sex with a (former) student

The ongoing dispute about the discipline of Ezekiel Elliott

Dallas Cowboy Ezekiel Elliott was notified that he was suspended for six games. The suspension was related to allegations of domestic violence. The propriety of that discipline was submitted for review pursuant to the provisions of the cba between the NFL Players Association and the NFL. Even before a decision was issued, the NFLPA sought to vacate "the forthcoming Arbitration Award." The Union claimed that Elliot was being denied a "fundamentally fair" hearing and that important information had been withheld in the disciplinary process and from the "unilaterally appointed" arbitrator. On September 5, 2017 Harold Henderson issued his decision. (here) He described the appeal process under the CBA as "a unique exercise in labor arbitration." Henderson concluded that the Commissioner's decision was not arbitrary or capricious and that the process described in the cba had been "followed closely, step by step." Thereafter, the NFL filed a complaint in a different federal district seeking to confirm the award. The Sports Esquires links to the various documents and pleadings in the cases here. On September 8, 2017 District Court Judge Amos Mazzo granted (here) the NFLA's request for a preliminary injunction, enjoying the imposition of the discipline until a final decision could be reached on the petite to vacate. Judge Mazzant concluded;

The question of what happened between Elliott and Thompson in July 2016 is not before the Court. Nor is the Court making any credibility findings. As previously stated herein, the Court has a limited role in this case. The question before the Court is merely whether Elliott received a fundamentally fair hearing before the arbitrator. The answer is he did not. The Court finds, based upon the injunction standard, that Elliott was denied a fundamentally fair hearing by Henderson's refusal to allow Thompson and Goodell to testify at the arbitration hearing. Their absence effectively deprived Elliott of any chance to have a fundamentally fair hearing. The Court grants the request for preliminary injunction.

The NFL has requested a stay of Judge Mazzant's preliminary injunction and has indicted its intent to pursue the issue to the Fifth Circuit.

Update: Judge Mazzant has denied (here) the NFL's request for a stay. 

Arbitrator rejects discipline of Criminal Investigator for alleged acts of racial profiling

In September of 2015 several employees of the Oregon Department of Justice, including Grievant, were asked to trial a new software program the office was considering purchasing. Grievant was assigned to the Fusion Center, and his primary responsibility was to conduct threat assessments. The software being tested enabled a user to, among other things, do a word search on public Twitter accounts. As part of his trial, and unrelated to any pending investigation, grievant conducted a word search for "#blacklivesmatter" and "fuckthepolice." The software also had a geo-locate function which enabled grievant to view usage of the terms in the immediate area of his office. In doing so he discovered a twitter account with images of what appeared to be a police officer in the crosshairs of a rifle scope. Further search disclosed a substantial number of images "including political cartoons, personal photographs ... and other hashtags." Grievant was unaware of the person to whom the account belonged, but another employee identified that person as the Department's Civil Rights Director. Grievant notified his supervisor of what he had found and was ultimately instructed to prepare a memo about the discovered images. The memo was eventually shared with the Attorney General who asserted that grievant had engaged in racial profiling in his search terms. An outside attorney was hired to conduct an independent investigation, and grievant's employment was ultimately terminated. The asserted grounds for the termination were alleged violation Oregon Statutes prohibiting the collection and maintenance of "... information about the political, religious or social views, associations or activities of any individual, group, association, organization, corporation, business or partnership unless such information directly relates to an investigation of criminal activities, and there are reasonable grounds to suspect the subject of the information is or may be involved in criminal conduct," violation of the Department's Privacy Policy, and dishonesty during the investigation. Reviewing the termination, Arbitrator David M. Blair noted that while repeated references were made to alleged racial profiling, no such formal charge was leveled against grievant but the use of that label "most likely had a significant impact upon the Employer's decision to discipline the Grievant." Overturning the termination, and ordering grievant's reinstatement with back pay, Arbitrator Blair noted a number of "self inflicted wounds" by the Department:

(1) it ordered the Grievant to capture the images which are the subject of this grievance, (2) shared preliminary personnel information directly with [Civil Rights Director] Johnson, (3) shared preliminary personnel information with prospective campaign donors, and (4) shared preliminary personnel information with the media. It is of no surprise that the Employer set in motion a series of events that could have no other outcome than to deliver severe punishment for the declared perpetrator.

Arbitrator Blair also faulted the Department's introduction of a new tool with no guidance or training on its use. He found no evidence of any improper motive on the part of the grievant and nothing to support a finding of intentional deception. Regarding the charge of dishonesty, the Arbitrator noted:

As this matter involves a most damaging accusation of dishonesty against a law enforcement officer, the arbitrator specifically negates such charge and orders the removal of any and all such references from the Grievant's personnel file as it relates to this matter

Arbitrator Blair's award can be found here.

PA Supreme Court declines review of challenge to arbitrator's reinstatement of teacher

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by the Cornwall-Lebanon School District of a decision upholding an arbitrator's reinstatement of a teacher who was dismissed for, among other claimed offense, having a sexual encounter with a student on the night of her graduation.

An arbitrator had found that while the teacher had significant interaction and communication with the student prior to graduation, the sexual relationship did not begin until she had graduated. He concluded, therefore, that the teacher did not have culpability for the relationship that took place after graduation and after the student was over eighteen. The Court of Common Pleas granted the School District's request to vacate the award, finding that even if the actual sexual encounter did not take place until after graduation the District had established that the teacher's conduct posed an unacceptable risk of undermining the School's legitimate policies, and that the award reinstating the teacher was contrary to public policy.

The Commonwealth Court reversed (here). It found that the lower court had improperly ignored the arbitrator's findings of fact and intruded into the arbitrator's authority to weigh the appropriate penalty. The Supreme Court has now denied the District's Petition for allowance to Appeal.

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