November 20, 2018

Duty of fair representation


Duty of fair representation
Ponticello v County of Suffolk, 225 A.D.2d 751

Joseph Ponticello filed a grievance. When the grievance was denied by Suffolk County, Ponticello asked his union, the Association of Deputy Sheriffs and Correction Officers, to demand arbitration. The union refused to demand arbitration and Ponticello sued the County, seeking a judgment confirming his right to arbitration under the collective bargaining agreement.

In reversing a State Supreme Court judge's ruling in Ponticello's favor, the Appellate Division addressed an number of issues concerning a union's duty of fair representation and the right of a member of the bargaining unit to pursue "self-help" should the union decline to proceed with the arbitration of a grievance.

The Appellate Division ruled that in order for Ponticello to prevail, he had to prove that the union's action constituted discrimination, arbitrariness or invidious or hostile treatment. The decision makes the following points regarding an employee's right to demand arbitration if the union elects not to do so:

1. If an employer and an union enter into a collective bargaining agreement that creates a grievance procedure, an employee subject to the agreement may not sue the employer directly for breach of that agreement but must proceed, through the union, in accordance with the contract.

2. A union is not required to pursue arbitration in every grievance filed by a member of the negotiating unit and its failure to demand arbitration is not, standing alone, a breach of its duty of fair representation.

3. An employee may demand arbitration or sue the employer directly only if the collective bargaining agreement allows an employee to bring such an action or if the union breaches it duty of fair representation.

The Appellate Division found that the collective bargaining agreement gave the Association full control of which grievances may be submitted to arbitration. As Ponticello failed to establish that the Association had breached its duty of fair representation, he had no standing to sue the County.

Editor's Note: In Alston v Transport Workers Union of Greater New York, the Appellate Division pointed out that an amendment to the Civil Practice Law and Rules [Chapter 467, Laws of 1990], reduced the statute of limitations for bring an action against a union for breach of its duty of fair representation from six years to four months [§217(2)(a), CPLR]. The four months period commences to run from the date on which the employee knew or should have known that the breach had occurred or the date the employee suffers actual harm, whichever is later.


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