Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Arbitrator’s imposing a penalty of suspension without pay rather than termination did not violate public policy



Arbitrator’s imposing a penalty of suspension without pay rather than termination did not violate public policy
Roberts v City of New York, 2014 NY Slip Op 04706, Appellate Division, First Department

A twenty-two year employee was involved in a traffic accident while driving a Department vehicle under the influence of alcohol. After a hearing at which both sides presented testimony and documentary evidence, an arbitrator rejected the Department’s preferred penalty of termination, ruling instead that the unpaid suspension, which had lasted nearly two years, imposed on the employee immediately after the accident was a sufficient penalty for an employee who had an otherwise unblemished employment history and who had admitted his addiction to alcohol and had taken full responsibility for his misconduct.

The arbitrator, considering the employee's remorse and completion of his rehabilitation programs, ordered him reinstated as a Department employee to “a position commensurate with his experience,” but ruled that the Department did not have to restore him to a position requiring that he drive department vehicles until it was confident that he had been rehabilitated.

The Department then filed a petition pursuant to Article 75 of the CPLR seeking to vacate the arbitration award, contending that that termination was the only appropriate penalty under the circumstances. Supreme Court dismissed the Department’s petition and the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

The Appellate Division, considering the record and the findings made by the arbitrator, ruled that the Department had not established that the arbitration award should be vacated, explaining that the arbitrator’s award did not violate public policy and the Department failed to cite to any well-defined constitutional, statutory or common law principle that the award violated.

In the words of the Appellate Division, “as the arbitrator grounded his reasoning in the evidence, including an assessment of the employee as frank and apologetic,” the Department’s contention that termination is the only appropriate penalty “is without merit,” citing United Federation of Teachers, Local 2 v Board of Education, 1 NY3d 72.
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