The educator [Petitioner] in this CPLR Article 75 action appealed the Supreme Court's granting the appointing authority's motion to confirm an arbitration award terminating Petitioner's employment as a teacher, denied her petition seeking to vacate the award and dismissed the proceeding. Petitioner appealed but the Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the lower court's rulings.
Education Law §3020-a(5) provides that judicial review of a hearing officer's findings is limited to the grounds set forth in CPLR 7511(b), which provides that the court may vacate the award in the event it finds that the rights of the party challenging the award were prejudiced by:
(i) corruption, fraud or misconduct in procuring the award; or
(ii) partiality of an arbitrator appointed as a neutral, except where the award was by confession; or
(iii) an arbitrator, or agency or person making the award exceeded his power or so imperfectly executed it that a final and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made; or
(iv) failure to follow the CPLR Article 75 procedures, unless the party applying to vacate the award continued with the arbitration with notice of the defect or defects and without objection.
Where, however, the parties have submitted to compulsory arbitration, as was here the case, judicial scrutiny is stricter in that the determination must be in accord with due process, supported by adequate evidence, be rational, and not arbitrary and capricious, the criteria required to be met in adjudicating final administrative disciplinary determinations in CPLR Article 78 proceedings.
The Appellate Division held that arbitrator's decision here being challenged was based on sufficient evidence, was rational, and was not arbitrary or capricious. Further, said the court, Petitioner did not dispute the absences and lateness noted in Specifications 1 through 6, which "the arbitrator properly found were excessive," and as to which the arbitrator noted that Petitioner failed to seek a medical accommodation until shortly before the charges were filed against her.
Further, noted the Appellate Division, Petitioner did not provide medical documentation supporting her claim that the absences and lateness were causally related to her medical condition.
Turning to the charges and specification alleging Petitioner had subjected a student to corporal punishment, the Appellate Division acknowledged the fact that the arbitrator had credited the student's testimony with respect to this element in the disciplinary action taken against Petitioner, and, citing Paul v NYC Department of Education, 146 AD3d 705, opined that a "hearing officer's determination of credibility is largely unreviewable."
Applying the Pell Doctrine set out in Matter of Pell v. Board of Educ. of Union Free School Dist. No. 1 of Towns of Scarsdale and Mamaroneck, 34 NY2d 22, the Appellate Division said that termination of Petitioner's employment does not shock the conscience given her repeated and prolonged attendance issues, which were the subject of two prior disciplinary proceedings, and her other substantial misconduct.
Citing Bolt v NYC Department of Education, 30 NY3d 1065, the court observed that although " .... reasonable minds might disagree over what the proper penalty should have been does not provide a basis for vacating the arbitral award or refashioning the penalty."
The decision is posted on the Internet at: