October 28, 2020

An arbitrator's determination may be based on hearsay testimony

Supreme Court confirmed an arbitration award terminating petitioner's [Educator] employment as a tenured teacher.

The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the lower court's ruling, explaining that the  arbitrator's determination that Educator's teaching performance and judgment were poor during the relevant three-year period has a rational basis in the record and was not arbitrary and capricious.

The record, said the court, includes 10 substantiated written observational reports and testimony from multiple school administrators demonstrating inadequate teaching, efforts at remediation, and lack of improvement over the three-year period. In addition there was evidence that the Educator behaved unprofessionally toward a student.

Although Educator argued that there was no direct evidence substantiating certain of the charges against her, the Appellate Division noted that "an arbitrator's determination may be based on hearsay,"* citing Matter of Colon v City of N.Y. Dept. of Educ., 94 AD3d 568. Further, opined the court, "courts may not reweigh the evidence or substitute their own credibility determinations for those of the arbitrator."

Citing Matter of Pell v Board of Educ. of Union Free School Dist. No. 1 of Towns of Scarsdale and Mamaroneck, Westchester County, 34 NY2d 222, the Appellate Division said that under the circumstances, the arbitrator's imposing the penalty of termination did not shock its sense of fairness.

* Concerning the use of hearsay evidence in administrative proceedings, it is well established that "[h]earsay evidence can be the basis of an administrative determination" [see Gray v Adduci, 73 NY2d 741]. Notwithstanding the admissibility of hearsay as competent evidence, an employee may not be found guilty of charges solely on the basis of hearsay; some real evidence is required [Brown v Ristich, 36 NY2d 183; Carroll v Knickbocker Ice Co., 218 NY 435].

The decision is posted on the Internet at http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2020/2020_05586.htm

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