July 10, 2020

Claiming collateral estoppel in an effort to influence the decision by another tribunal involving the same issues and the same parties

An employee, while suspended from his position, was accused of certain misconduct and discharged from his employment. The individual [Claimant] had filed for unemployment insurance benefits and had contested his termination by seeking arbitration pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement.

Prior to the decision being issued by the arbitrator, an unemployment insurance hearing was held and the Administrative Law Judge [ALJ] denied a joint request by the parties to adjourn the matter until the arbitrator's award was promulgated.

Following the conclusion of the unemployment insurance hearing, but prior to the ALJ issuing a decision, the arbitrator issued an arbitration award finding that Claimant had engaged in misconduct warranting his termination from his position. The employer mailed a copy of the arbitrator's decision to the ALJ and asked that the ALJ take judicial notice* of it.

The ALJ issued a decision a few days later in which there was no mention of the arbitrator's decision and found that there was no evidence establishing that Claimant engaged in the alleged misconduct. The ALJ ruled that Claimant was entitled to receive unemployment insurance benefits.

The employer appealed ALJ's decision to the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board [Board] contending that the ALJ's decision was contrary to the arbitrator's decision, which it maintained was final and binding.

The Board found, among other things, that the ALJ did not abuse her discretion in denying an adjournment and affirmed the ALJ's determination. The employer appealed the Board's decision and the Appellate Division reversed the Board's ruling.

Citing Matter of Tucek [Big V Supermarkets-Commissioner of Labor], 277 AD2d 628, the Court noted that while "the Board is not bound by arbitration decisions regarding [a] claimant's discharge issued subsequent to the time the Board rendered its decision" the Board was informed of the arbitration decision prior to its decision. Thus, explained the Appellate Division, "the factual findings of the arbitrator should have been accorded collateral estoppel effect in relation to the final unemployment insurance decision, so long as the parties had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the misconduct issue at the arbitration hearing."

Further, opined the court, the fact that the arbitration decision was issued after the conclusion of the unemployment insurance hearing does not preclude its consideration for collateral estoppel purposes, as "the final factfinder in the administrative process is the Board, not the ALJ."

Finding that the Board had indicated that the arbitrator's decision was not part of the record before it notwithstanding its being an element in employer's appeal and a copy of it was annexed to the employer's administrative appeal to the Board, Appellate Division remanded the matter to the Board to permit the employer to place the arbitration decision into the record and to provide an opportunity for Claimant and the employer to provide additional evidence and testimony regarding the nature of the arbitration hearing.

* A procedure used by a court to accept a fact presented as evidence as true without a formal presentation such submitting public and court records, the tables of the times of sunset and sunrise and similar documents.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2020/2020_03705.htm

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