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December 31, 2010

Arbitrator’s award must be confirmed if not completely irrational

Arbitrator’s award must be confirmed if not completely irrational
Matter of Rochester City School Dist. v Rochester Teachers Assn., 38 AD3d 1152

Supreme Court, Monroe County, Judge William P. Polito, confirmed an arbitration award in favor of the Rochester Teachers Association, rejecting the School District’s motion to vacate the award. The arbitrator had ruled that teachers who had attained their Masters Degree while in service would be advanced two steps on the salary scale.

The District contended that the arbitrator had exceed her authority when she concluded that under the terms of collective bargaining agreement, teachers would advance two steps on the salary scale upon obtaining their Masters Degrees.

According to the Appellate Division, the parties had stipulated the follow question in submitting the matter to arbitration:

Did the School District breach the collective bargaining agreement between it and the Association when if failed to advance incumbent teachers two steps on the salary scale after they obtained their Masters?

The Appellate Division rejected the District’s claim that the arbitrator had exceeded her authority, ruling, “the arbitrator merely resolved the stipulated issue before her.”

Accordingly, the issue before the Appellate Division was not whether the court agreed with the arbitrator’s determination. The court, citing Wien & Malkin LLP v Helmsley-Spear, Inc., 6 NYPD 471, said, "[a]n arbitration award must be upheld when the arbitrator offer[s] even a barely colorable justification for the outcome reached.” Rather, said the court, the issue to be resolved was whether the decision was rationale.

In addition, the court noted that in Matter of Lackawanna City School Dist. v Lackawanna Teachers Federation, 237 AD2d 945, it was held that where an arbitrator’s interpretation of the agreement is not completely irrational, the award is beyond the court’s power to review.

The Appellate Division dismissed the School District’s petition.

However, Presiding Justice Henry Scudder dissented, stating that in his view “the arbitrator exceeded her authority in disregarding the provision of the CBA requiring that any amendment to it be duly executed by both parties, and in modifying the CBA by providing that teachers obtaining a Masters Degree during the course of their employment would receive a two-step increase on the salary scale” because although the CBA “provided that teachers who obtained a Masters Degree during the course of their employment would be entitled to tuition reimbursement … the CBA, however, did not provide a two-step increase on the salary scale for teachers who obtained a Masters Degree during the course of their employment.”

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