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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Vacating an arbitration award

Vacating an arbitration award
2013 NY Slip Op 50666(U), Supreme Court, Part-orange County, Judge Catherine M. Bartlett [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports]

It is “black letter law” that an arbitration award will 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 and every reasonable intendment is indulged in favor of an award." Further, the burden of proving that an arbitrator's ruling "constituted misconduct rests with [the] respondent and must be met by clear and convincing proof."

In this case the employer commenced a special proceeding in an effort to vacate an arbitration award that provided for the temporary suspension of an employee without pay for “the balance of the school year” and required the employee to attend an anger management class.

The employer appealed in an effort annul the penalty imposed by the arbitrator, contending that under the circumstances this "punishment did not fit the crime" that the arbitrator's decision was irrational given the sworn testimony of various witnesses concerning the employee’s [mis]behavior, and argued that the "shockingly lenient penalty" was enough to shock the court's conscience and violated public policy. In lieu of the penalty imposed by the arbitrator, the employer sought the termination of the employee.

In rebuttal, the employee argued that the arbitrator’s decision to suspend him without pay and require his participation in anger management training was well within the bounds of the arbitrator’s decision making authority and should not to be upset by the court.

Judge Bartlett observed that “Under CPLR §7511, the court may scrutinize an arbitration award only on the narrow grounds specified in subdivision (b) and only upon the application of a party.” As to the employer’s public policy argument, the court pointed out that in Civil Serv. Empls. Assn., Town of Callicoon Unit, 70 NY2d 907, the Court of Appeals held that an arbitration award will 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."

In addition, Judge Bartlett commented that “every reasonable intendment is indulged in favor of an award” and that in this instance the burden of proving that an arbitrator's ruling "constituted misconduct rests with [the employer] and must be met by clear and convincing proof,” citing Matter of Mencher, 276 App.Div. 556, 96 N.Y.S.2d 13.

As to the employer’s claim that the arbitrator’s award was violative of public policy, Judge Bartlett observed that an arbitration award will be vacated on public policy grounds only where such policy "prohibit[s], in an absolute sense, particular matters being decided or certain relief being granted by an arbitrator."

As to the arbitration award at issue, Judge Bartlett held that “upon review of the arbitration decision on its face, it cannot be said as a matter of law that public policy precludes its enforcement,” explaining that in this instance the hearing officer determined that an effective suspension for almost four months without pay plus remedial action in the form of required anger management training was the appropriate penalty.

Noting that there was no evidence that the employee previously or subsequently engaged in similar conduct, and that the employee had expressed his remorse and complied with the penalties imposed by the arbitrator, the court said that the fact that the employer disagreed with the arbitrator’s determination “does not empower this Court to dismantle the process.”

Accordingly, Judge Bartlett denied the employer’s application in its entirety.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2013/2013_50666.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/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances 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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