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December 30, 2011

Public policy considerations affecting arbitration

Public policy considerations affecting arbitration
Sullivan County v Sullivan County Employees Asso., 235 A.D.2d 748

One of the issues in this appeal heard by the Appellate Division concerned Sullivan County's claim that the arbitration of a grievance as demanded by the Sullivan County Employees Association violated of "public policy considerations" and should be stayed.

The Association had demanded arbitration when the County denied a grievance based on the Association's claim that its action modifying a Taylor Law contract with another collective bargaining unit had triggered the "parity clause" in its agreement. The "parity clause" provided that if another bargaining unit negotiated a salary increase, those increases would be operative for employees covered by the agreement.

The Appellate Division said that to invoke a violation of public policy as justification for staying arbitration, "the violation must amount to the equivalent of a gross illegality." Although Sullivan County claimed that "parity clauses" were illegal, the Appellate Division noted that "such clauses are not per se invalid but require a case-by-case analysis."

The Courts indicated that the matter was not yet ripe for judicial consideration, commenting that if "the arbitrator's interpretation of the agreement may offend public policy, such a potential does not mandate a stay of arbitration." Rather, said the Court, if that turns out to be the case, the remedy is vacatur (reversal) of the award.

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