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Friday, March 29, 2013

Religious holidays provision in Taylor Law agreement held unconstitutional


Religious holidays provision in Taylor Law agreement held unconstitutional
Board of Education of the Mineola UFSD v Mineola Teachers Assn., 2013 NY Slip Op 02070, Appellate Division, Second Department

The Mineola Teachers Association appealed an order of the Supreme Court, Nassau County that granted the School District’s petition seeking to permanently stay the arbitration of a grievance alleging that the School District breached the “religious holiday” provision set out in the collective bargaining agreement [CBA] between the School District and the Association.

The CBA clause in question provided that “members of the Association” could receive up to five of the religious holidays “designated by the New York State Commissioner of Education” as paid days off, “two of which would not be charged to any other leave.” Although the New York State Commissioner of Education had discontinued designating “religious holidays,” the religious holidays provision in the CBA was not amended and the School District continued to permit Association members who requested time off for religious observance to avail themselves of the religious holidays provision.

In October 2010, the School District advised the Association that it would no longer abide by the religious holidays provision because it was unconstitutional. The Association filed a grievance, which was denied. The Association then demanded that the grievance be submitted to arbitration.

The Appellate Division said that the first issue to be resolved when determining whether a dispute is subject to public sector employment arbitration is "whether the subject of the claim sought to be arbitrated is the type authorized by the Taylor Law” citing Matter of Blackburne, 87 NY2d 660. The court explained that "If a statute, decisional law or public policy precludes the governmental employer and employee from referring the dispute to arbitration, then the answer to this inquiry is no and the claim is not arbitrable."

Noting that "There is no firmer or more settled principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence than that prohibiting the use of the State's power to force one to profess a religious belief," the Appellate Division said that the clear wording of the religious holidays provision in the CBA rewarded members of the Association who claimed to be religiously observant with more paid days off than those afforded to agnostics, atheists, and members who were less observant.

Similarly, in Port Washington Union Free School Dist. v Port Washington Teachers Assn., 268 AD2d 523, the Appellate Division ruled that a CBA provision that allowed a teacher to be absent with pay on "any of the religious holidays designated by the New York State Commissioner of Education" without charging his or her absence to leave credits violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

In contrast to the language of the provision included in the Port Washington CBA, the Port Washington court noted that many Taylor Law collective bargaining agreements provide for absences with pay charged to "personal leave," which leave may be used for any "personal business" including the observation of religious holidays. Presumably such provisions would pass the “Constitutional test” as they neither favor the "religiously observant" nor penalize "agnostics, atheists, and members who were less observant."

The Appellate Division ruled that Supreme Court properly granted the School District's petition to permanently stay arbitration and denied the Association's motion to compel arbitration.

The Mineola decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2013/2013_02070.htm
Electronic books [e-books] focusing on New York State and Municipal Public Personnel Law:

The Discipline Book, - a concise guide to disciplinary actions involving public employees in New York State. A 1900+ page e-book. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5215.html

The Layoff, Preferred List and Reinstatement Manual - a 645 page e-book reviewing the relevant laws, rules and regulations, and selected court and administrative decisions. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/5216.html

A Reasonable Disciplinary Penalty Under the Circumstances - A 600+ page guide to penalties imposed on public employees in New York State found guilty of selected acts of misconduct. For more information, click on http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com/

General Municipal Law§§ 207-a and 207-c - Disability Leave for fire, police and other public sector personnel - a 1098 page e-book focusing on administering General Municipal Law Sections 207-a/207-c and providing benefits thereunder. For more information click on http://booklocker.com/books/3916.html

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