Thursday, April 06, 2017

Public policy prohibits an employer from bargaining away its right to remove employees meeting the plain and clear statutory requisites for termination


Public policy prohibits an employer from bargaining away its right to remove employees meeting the plain and clear statutory requisites for termination
Enlarged City Sch. Dist. of Middletown N.Y. v Civil Serv. Empls. Assn., Inc., 2017 NY Slip Op 02421, Appellate Division, Second Department

In this appeal the issue concerned the court's granting of a permanent stay of arbitration of a grievance alleged to have violated a term or condition of the controlling collective bargaining agreement pursuant to CPLR Article 75.

The geneses of the grievance was the termination of an employee pursuant to §71 of the Civil Service Law. §71 provides for Workers' Compensation Leave and authorizes the termination of an individual on such leave after he or she has been "... out of work for a cumulative period of one year or longer.*  The employee, a member of the collective bargaining unit represented by the Civil Service Employees Association [CSEA] contended that his termination while on §71 leave violated certain terms and conditions of the collective bargaining agreement. Ultimately CSEA demanded that the employee's grievance be submitted to arbitration.

Supreme Court denied the school district's petition seeking a permanent stay of the arbitration. The district appealed, contending that submitting the subject matter of the dispute to arbitration was prohibited by public policy. The Appellate Division granted the school district a temporary stay of the arbitration proceeding and ultimately held that "the Supreme Court should have granted the district's petition to permanently stay arbitration."

The Appellate Division explained that although the general policy with respect to collective bargaining agreements favors the resolution of disputes by arbitration, some matters, because of competing considerations of public policy, cannot be heard by an arbitrator and "[p]reemptive judicial intervention in the arbitration process is warranted where the arbitrator [cannot] grant any relief without violating public policy."

Citing Economico v Village of Pelham, 50 NY2d 120 [overruled on other grounds, Matter of Prue v Hunt, 78 NY2d 364], the Appellate Division considered the allegation that the employee's termination was in contravention of his rights under a collective bargaining agreement.

In Economico the issue concerned the termination of a permanent employee on the Civil Service Law §72, Leave for Ordinary Disability, pursuant to §72.4  of the Civil Service Law.  §72.4  provides for such termination at the discretion of the appointing authority in accordance with the provisions of §73 of the Civil Service Law. The Court of Appeals held that "public policy prohibits an employer from bargaining away its right to remove those employees satisfying the plain and clear statutory requisites for termination" set out in §72 pursuant to §73.

While §72.4 provides that an employee continuously absent from work for one year or longer pursuant to §72 as the result of a non-work related disability or disease, §71 provides that a public employer may terminate an employee who is absent due to an occupational disability for a cumulative period of one year**  or longer at the discretion of the appointing authority if the employee is physically or mentally unable to return to work.

The Appellate Division concluded that both §71 and §72.4 of the Civil Service Law establish "the point at which injured civil servants may be replaced," as they "strike a balance between the recognized substantial State interest in an efficient civil service and the interest of the civil servant in continued employment in the event of a disability." Thus, said the court, for the same reason that "public policy was implicated in Matter of Economico v Village of Pelham," i.e., the abrogation of the authority granted to a public employer by §72.4 to terminate the disabled employee, "it is implicated in the instant matter," termination of the disabled employee as authorized by Civil Service Law §71.

The Appellate Division said that as an arbitrator would not be able to fashion a remedy that would not violate public policy in this instance, a preemptive stay of arbitration with respect to the employee's grievance is not improper.

N.B. It should be noted that termination pursuant to §71 or §73 is not a pejorative dismissal. An individual terminated from such a leave may, within one year after the termination of his or her disability, apply to the civil service department or municipal commission having jurisdiction over the position last held by the employee for a medical examination to be conducted by a medical officer selected for that purpose by such department or commission and if found medically and physically qualified, he or she is eligible for reinstatement or other relief as provided by law. 

* See Duncan v NYS Developmental Center, 63 NY2d 128

** Where an employee has been separated from the service by reason of a disability resulting from an assault sustained in the course of his or her employment, he or she shall be entitled to a §71 leave of absence for at least two years, unless his or her disability is of such a nature as to permanently incapacitate him or her for the performance of the duties of his or her position.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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