No Public Policy Prevents Reinstatement Of Officer Convicted Of Misdemeanor

Martin Stumpf, a police officer with the City of Highland Park, Illinois, was found guilty of one count of criminal trespass to a vehicle, a Class A misdemeanor, after an off-duty encounter with another motorist. The City subsequently terminated Stumpf because of his conviction.

Stumpf’s labor organization, Local 714 of the Teamster Union, challenged Stumpf’s termination in arbitration. An arbitrator ruled that, based on Stumpf’s long and positive work record, he was unlikely to re-offend, and that an 18-day unpaid suspension was the appropriate punishment for his conduct. The City then challenged the Arbitrator’s opinion in court on the grounds that it violated principles of public policy.

The Illinois Court of Appeals upheld the Arbitrator’s decision. The Court noted that “an arbitration decision that contravenes paramount considerations of public policy is not enforceable.” However, the Court noted that “the public policy exception is narrow and its successful invocation requires a clear showing that the award violates some explicit public policy.”

The City argued that a public policy existed requiring the termination of police officers who were convicted of crimes. The Court rejected the argument, finding that “we have found nothing in our State’s statutes or case law that directly required the City to terminate Stumpf because he had been found guilty. Absent a legal prohibition against the reinstatement, there must be some well-defined and dominant policy, not merely a value judgment or notion that the public interest explicitly forbids the employee’s reinstatement.”

The Court found no such overriding public policy in Stumpf’s case. In fact, the Court was convinced that the particulars of Stumpf’s case, including his work record, supported the notion that the Arbitrator’s decision was not inconsistent with public policy. In reaching this judgment, the Court relied on testimony by the Police Chief.

The Court observed that “the Chief conceded that, had Stumpf been acquitted of all the charges, he would have been able to return to work full-time, despite his improper and unbecoming conduct. Only after the jury found Stumpf guilty of a crime did the City conclude that terminating Stumpf was necessary. This conclusion had nothing to do with the risk that Stumpf would re-offend. The City’s conduct and its explanation for that conduct are quite consistent with the Arbitrator’s finding that Stumpf was reasonably likely not to repeat his improprieties. We cannot say that this finding was irrational.”

City of Highland Park v. Teamster Union Local No. 714, 2005 WL 995338 (Ill.App. 2005).

This article appears in the June 2005 issue