Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Actively participating in the arbitration process without objection precludes the party later claiming that the matter presented to the arbitrator was not subject to arbitration

Actively participating in the arbitration process without objection precludes the party later claiming that the matter presented to the arbitrator was not subject to arbitration
Matter of Jandrew v County of Cortland, 2011 NY Slip Op 04143, Appellate Division, Third Department

Cortland County terminated Bryon Jandrew from his position with the County.
Jandrew filed a grievance under the relevant collective bargaining agreement [CBA]. The grievance was ultimately submitted to binding arbitration in accordance with the CBA, and an arbitrator was jointly elected by the parties.
Although Cortland contended that the subject matter of the grievance was not subject to arbitration, it did not seek a stay of arbitration and agreed to have the issue of arbitrability of Jandrew’s grievance determined by the arbitrator, as well as the issues of whether Jandrew was “properly terminated” and, if not “properly terminated,” the appropriate remedy.
The arbitrator ruled that Jandrew’s grievance was arbitrable. The arbitrator then determined that Jandrew’s termination was without cause and, as the remedy ruled that the County must reinstate him to his former position with back pay and benefits.
Although Courtland then notified Jandrew's attorney that it would appeal the award and that Jandrew “should not show up to work pending the appeal,” the County neither appealed the award nor did it move to vacate or modify it. Further, the County did not restore Jandrew to the payroll or provide back pay or benefits as directed by the arbitrator.
Jandrew then filed a petition pursuant to CPLR Article 75 seeking to confirm the arbitrator's award, whereupon Courtland filed an answer to his petition and moved to vacate the award.
Supreme Court confirmed the arbitration award and the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s action.
The Appellate Division rejected Cortland’s argument that the award should be vacated because the arbitrator lacked the authority to decide the controversy. The court pointed out that “A party who actively participates in arbitration without seeking a stay pursuant to CPLR §7503(b) waives the right to a judicial determination of the arbitrability of the dispute,” citing Matter of United Federation of Teachers, Local 2, AFT, AFL-CIO v Board of Education of City School District of City of New York, 1 NY3d 72.
In this instance, said the court, although the County initially took the position that the grievance was not arbitrable, it thereafter joined in the selection of the arbitrator, fully participated in the arbitration proceeding and, most significantly, itself submitted to arbitration the issue of whether the grievance was arbitrable rather than "availing itself of all its reasonable judicial remedies."
Accordingly, the Appellate Division concluded that the County had waived its right to contest the arbitrator's power to decide the controversy.
Further, said the court, “By submitting [the grievance] to arbitration, [Cortland] ran the risk that the arbitrator would find the dispute covered under the CBA, as she did, and while a contrary determination certainly would have been reasonable on the present record, it is not for us to substitute our judgment for that of the arbitrator in this regard.”
Finally, the Appellate Division rejected Cortland’s contention that the arbitrator's award violated public policy. Although an arbitration award may be vacated on this “extremely narrow ground” it may be vacated only where a court can conclude, "'without engaging in any extended fact-finding or legal analysis' that a law 'prohibit[s], in an absolute sense, [the] particular matters [to be] decided'" or that "the award itself violate[s] a well-defined constitutional, statutory or common law of this State"
Simply stated, said the court, “we fail to find any strong public policy precluding parties to a collective bargaining agreement from agreeing that the disciplining of employees for failure to maintain minimum job qualifications is to be submitted to and decided by an arbitrator.”
Similarly, with respect to the County’s argument that the award usurped the County Personnel Officer's power to set minimum job qualifications, the Appellate Division said “again the Cortland failed to point to any public policy that ‘prohibit[s], in an absolute sense,’ an employer from delegating to an arbitrator the authority to determine if an employee continues to meet the minimum qualifications of his or her position.”
Considering the adage that arbitrators "may do justice as they see it, applying their own sense of law and equity to the facts as they find them to be," the Appellate Division concluded that Cortland had not established that the arbitration award should be vacated for public policy reasons.
The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2011/2011_04143.htm

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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