Thursday, September 15, 2011

Challenging arbitration awards


Challenging arbitration awards
Coppa v State of New York, NYS Supreme Court, Justice A. Lebowitz, [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports]

Clearly, Article 75 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules imposes significant limitations on challenging an arbitration award. Two such limitations are:

1. The arbitrator exceed his or her authority in rendering a decision and

2. Alleged bias on the part of the arbitrator. These were among the issues considered in the Coppa case.

Coppa, a Psychiatrist II employed by the Brooklyn Development Center of the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities [OMRDD], was suspended without pay. He was served with a Notice of Discipline, dated March 2, 1999, charging him with “endangering the welfare of a consumer, verbally abusing a consumer and verbally abusing and threatening subordinate staff members.” OMRDD's proposed penalty: termination.

Coppa filed a disciplinary grievance challenging the charges filed against him in accordance with the disciplinary procedure set out in the Taylor Law agreement between the State and his employee organization. The grievance was ultimately submitted to arbitration. The arbitrator conducted a disciplinary hearing, sustained two of the three charges, which had been preferred against Coppa by OMRDD and imposed the penalty of dismissal.

Coppa filed a petition pursuant to Article 75 petition seeking to vacate the arbitration award.

Key to resolving Coppa's appeal, said the court, were the terms of the disciplinary arbitration procedure set out in the collective bargaining agreement.

In the words of the court, the contract expressly authorizes the disciplinary arbitrator to “render determinations of guilt or innocence and the appropriateness of proposed penalties” and provides that the “arbitrator's decision with respect to guilt or innocence, penalty, probable cause for suspension, or temporary reassignment, if any ... shall be final and binding [up]on the parties.”

These explicit provisions supported OMRDD's position that the arbitrator did not exceed his jurisdiction in ruling upon the preferred charges of misconduct and imposing the penalty of dismissal.

Judge Lebowitz pointed out that:

Where a dispute has been arbitrated pursuant to a broad arbitration agreement between the parties, the resulting award may not be vacated “unless it is violative of a strong public policy, is totally irrational or clearly exceeds a specifically enumerated limitation on the arbitrator's power,” citing the Court of Appeals' ruling in Town of Callicoon v CSEA, 70 NY2d 907.

Another issue raised by Coppa: the possibility of bias on the part of the disciplinary arbitrator in view of his “prior employment by the State of New York.”

However, said the court, the arbitrator's previous employment by the State was disclosed to Coppa in the arbitrator's resume sent to the parties in advance of his selection to serve as the hearing officer. Coppa proceeded to arbitration without objecting or inquiring further into the arbitrator's possible bias.

This omission, said Judge Lebowitz, meant that Coppa waived any possible objection to the arbitrator's award based on a theory of bias resulting from the arbitrator's prior relationship with the State of New York.

Judge Lebowitz confirmed the arbitration award finding Coppa guilty of two of the charges and the penalty imposed: dismissal from his position.

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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