Friday, December 23, 2011

Arbitrator’s disciplinary decision must be sustained by the court if there is a rational basis for, and sufficient evidence to support, the determination


Arbitrator’s disciplinary decision must be sustained by the court if there is a rational basis for, and sufficient evidence to support, the determination
Matter of Matter of Trupiano v Board of Educ. of E. Meadow Union Free School Dist., 2011 NY Slip Op 08601, Appellate Division, Second Department

The §3020-a hearing officer sustained a charge of misconduct against the teacher and directed the placement of a counseling memo in her personnel file as the penalty to be imposed.

The charges filed against the teacher followed her participation in a teachers' union action involving approximately 15 teachers who parked their cars along the street in front of the school just before the start of the school day. The Board alleged that this "resulted in children being dropped off in the middle of the street which resulted in an otherwise avoidable and unnecessary health and safety hazard."

In response to Article 75 petitions filed, respectively, by the teacher and the Board, Supreme Court granted the teacher’s petition to vacate the penalty portion of the hearing officers determination and denied the Board’s petition to vacate the award on the ground that the penalty imposed was too lenient. Supreme Court decided that the hearing officer's fact-findings did not support his finding of culpability, and thus, there was no rational basis for finding the teacher guilty of the disciplinary charges.

The Appellate Division modified the lower court’s ruling, explaining that where the parties are compelled to engage in arbitration by statute (see Education Law § 3020-a[5]), "judicial review under CPLR Article 75 is broad, requiring that the award be in accord with due process and supported by adequate evidence in the record." Accordingly, to be sustained, the arbitrator’s award "must have evidentiary support and cannot be arbitrary and capricious."

Here, the hearing officer concluded that the undisputed "arrangement of cars in which [the teacher] participated created a safety hazard. Many students . . . could not be dropped off at curbside. Instead, the cars had to stop in the middle of the road and students had to walk in the road to enter the school."

Under these circumstances, said the court, there was a rational basis for, and sufficient evidence to support, the hearing officer's conclusion that the petitioner was culpable of the charge preferred against her. Accordingly, “Supreme Court erred in granting the [teacher’s] petition to vacate the determination on the basis that it was arbitrary and capricious.

Further, the Appellate Division said that Supreme Court should not have denied the Board’s petition on the grounds that it was “moot” but, rather, should have denied it on the merits as the penalty imposed by the arbitrator, placing a counseling memo in the teacher’s personnel file was within the arbitrator's power and did not violate public policy.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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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