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April 10, 2014

The Commissioner of Education to determine if two positions are sufficiently similar within the meaning of Education Law §2510 in the first instance

The Commissioner of Education to determine if two positions are sufficiently similar within the meaning of Education Law §2510 in the first instance
Matter of Alden Cent. Sch. Dist. (Alden Cent. Schools Administrators' Assn.), 2014 NY Slip Op 02185, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

The school district filed an Article 75 petition seeking to stay arbitration of a grievance challenging the level of the compensation paid to an individual represented by the union who had been laid off from her position of principal of an elementary school and thereafter appointed from the preferred list to serve as an assistant principal at a middle school at a lower salary. The union filed a cross-petition seeking to compel arbitration of the grievance, contending that the educator’s new position was “sufficiently ‘similar’ within the meaning of the Education Law §2510(3)(a) such that she is entitled to the same level of pay.”

Supreme Court denied the school district’s petition for a stay of arbitration. The Appellate Division, however, reversed the lower court’s ruling and granted the district’s petition to stay the arbitration of the grievance.

Noting that it is well settled that, in deciding an application to stay or compel arbitration under CPLR §7503 the court is concerned only with the threshold determination of arbitrability, and not with the merits of the underlying claim, the Appellate Division explained that in making the threshold determination of arbitrability, the court applies a two-part test.

A court first determines whether "there is any statutory, constitutional or public policy prohibition against arbitration of the grievance. If no prohibition exists, [the court then determines] whether the parties in fact agreed to arbitrate the particular dispute by examining their collective bargaining agreement."

In this instance the Appellate Division said that it agreed with the school district that the Commissioner of Education has primary jurisdiction over the parties' dispute, and that arbitration is therefore prohibited by public policy.

The court said that the Commissioner of Education has the specialized knowledge and expertise to resolve the factual issue of whether the former position and the new position are similar within the meaning of Education Law §2510(3)(a). Accordingly, concluded the Appellate Division “the Commissioner of Education should ‘resolve, in the first instance’ the issue of fact whether two positions are sufficiently similar under Education Law §2510.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2014/2014_02185.htm


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