October 16, 2017

Guidelines followed by courts in reviewing a challenge to a disciplinary decision made after a hearing held pursuant to compulsory arbitration



Guidelines followed by courts in reviewing a challenge to a disciplinary decision made after a hearing held pursuant to compulsory arbitration
2017 NY Slip Op 07122, Appellate Division, Second Department

Education Law §3020-a mandates compulsory arbitration in the event an educator challenges disciplinary charges that have been filed against him or her by the appointing authority.

Petitioner was found guilty of charges of misconduct filed pursuant to Education Law §3020-a after a hearing. The penalty imposed: termination from the position. Petitioner then initiated an action in Supreme Court pursuant to CPLR Article 75 seeking a court order vacating the arbitrator's determination. Supreme Court, however, confirmed the arbitration award and Petitioner appealed that court's ruling to the Appellate Division.

The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court's decision explaining:

1. Where the obligation to arbitrate arises through a statutory mandate such as Education Law §3020-a, the determination of the arbitrator is subject to closer judicial scrutiny than it would otherwise receive.

2. An award resulting from a compulsory arbitration proceeding must have evidentiary support and cannot be arbitrary and capricious.

3. The arbitrator's decision must be rational or have a plausible basis.

4. The reviewing court "should accept the arbitrators' credibility determinations, even where there is conflicting evidence and room for choice exists."

The Appellate Division held that the arbitrator's determination had evidentiary support and was not arbitrary or capricious. Further, the court found that the arbitrator's determination "was in a form sufficient to enable [Petitioner] to understand its basis so as to permit an intelligent challenge and adequate judicial review."

The decision also notes that Petitioner "failed to present evidentiary proof of actual bias or the appearance of bias on the part of the arbitrator and thus failed to establish entitlement to vacatur of the arbitrator's award  on the ground of partiality."

As to the penalty imposed by the Arbitrator, termination, the Appellate Division, citing Pell v Board of Education of Union Free School District No. 1, 34 NY2d 222, said that the penalty "does not shock the conscience" and sustained it.

* §3020-a(2)(a) of the Education Law requires the appointing authority to provide the individual against whom disciplinary charges are served with a written statement specifying (i) the charges in detail and (ii) the maximum penalty which will be imposed by the board if the employee does not request a hearing while §3020-a(2)(f) provides that "The unexcused failure of the employee to notify the clerk or secretary of his or her desire for a hearing within ten days of the receipt of charges shall be deemed a waiver of the right to a hearing."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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