December 13, 2010

Seeking class action relief in arbitrations

Seeking class action relief in arbitrations
Correction Officers Benevolent Association v City of New York, 276 AD2d 394

May an arbitrator grant relief to a class of employees if but a single individual filed the grievance?

This was the critical issue before the Appellate Division, First Department when the Correction Officers Benevolent Association attempted to confirm an arbitration award interpreting a clause in the parties’ collective bargaining agreement between the Association and the City of New York providing for military leave with pay. The City filed a cross motion seeking to have the court rescind the award.

The Appellate Division confirmed the award, holding that the arbitrator did not exceed his authority in awarding class relief.

Why was this a class action? Because, said the court, the request for arbitration, jointly submitted by the parties, expressly framed the proceeding as a Class Action grievance due to the fact that numerous employees represented by the Association were subject to call for military duty and were therefore affected by the manner in which respondents applied the clause in the case of the individual who filed the grievance.

The opinion suggests that the City could have withdrawn the request for class relief, but never did so. Although the issue framed by the parties did not refer to the class aspect of the submission, the remedy sought was expressed in open-ended terms that did not limit the arbitrator’s power to grant any specific relief. As the arbitrator’s interpretation of the clause in dispute was not totally irrational, it was properly confirmed.

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