August 25, 2020

Challenging an arbitration decision and award

The collective bargaining agreement [CBA] at issue provided that in selecting teachers to be transferred within the school district the "[l]ength of teaching experience in the school system" would the controlling factor "where all other factors are substantially equal."

The employee organization [Association] representing the School District's [District] teachers filed grievances on behalf of two of its members in the collective bargaining unit who were passed over for transfers to a particular school in the District in favor of unit members with less seniority. The grievances ultimately were submitted to arbitration and the arbitrator issued opinions finding that the District had not violated the CBA and dismissed the grievances.

The Association subsequently filed a timely CPLR Article 75 petition challenging the arbitrator's decision.  Supreme Court dismissed the petition and the Association again appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court's ruling, which in effect confirmed the arbitration award, explaining that the arbitrator here determined that School District did not violate the seniority provision of the CBA with respect to the grievants because "all other factors" were not "substantially equal."

Rejecting the Association's contention that the arbitrator exceeded his power in rendering the award, the Appellate Division, quoting Matter of Board of Educ. of Arlington Cent. School Dist. v Arlington Teachers Assn., 78 NY2d 33, explained that "It is well settled that an arbitrator exceeds his or her power within the meaning of CPLR 7511(b)(1)(iii) where, inter alia,* the arbitration award "is irrational, or clearly exceeds a specifically enumerated limitation on the arbitrator's power." Further, said the court, "An arbitrator's interpretation may even disregard the apparent, or even the plain, meaning of the words of the contract before him [or her] and still be impervious to challenge in the courts." 

Citing Finger Lakes Region Police Officers Local 195 of Council 82, AFSCME, AFL-CIO [City of Auburn], 103 AD3d 1237, the Appellate Division said that although "a different construction could have been accorded to the subject provision of the [CBA],  ...  it cannot be stated that the arbitrator gave a completely irrational construction to the provision in dispute and, in effect, exceeded [his] authority by making a new contract for the parties."

The Appellate Division also rejected the Association's contention that the arbitrator's award was irrational. An award is irrational, said the court, if there is no proof whatever to justify the award. Otherwise "[a]n arbitration award must be upheld when the arbitrator offer[s] even a barely colorable justification for the outcome reached," opining that in this instance "there is a colorable justification for the arbitrator's determination."

The Appellate Division then affirmed Supreme Court's order denying the Association's petition seeking to vacate the arbitration award and granting School District's request to confirm the arbitration award.

* Latin for "among other things." This phrase is frequently found in legal writings to indicate the reference is but "one example" of many possible examples that could be cited.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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