City Loses Challenge To Arbitrator’s Award Reinstating Officer

After complainant reported that a Duluth police officer had come into her apartment and assaulted her, the officer became subject to both criminal charges and the disciplinary procedures of the City of Duluth Police Department. A jury acquitted the officer of the criminal charges, but the Department nonetheless fired him.

The officer’s labor organization, the Duluth Police Local, filed a grievance on behalf of the officer. A polygraph examiner whom the officer had retained in connection with the criminal trial testified at the arbitration hearing. The examiner said he tested the officer and concluded that the officer was truthful when he answered “no” to the questions about whether he had any type of physical contact with the complainant on the day of the alleged abuse, whether he had touched and kissed the complainant as she claimed, and whether he was in the complainant’s apartment on the day of the alleged abuse.

A total of 24 other witnesses testified in the arbitration hearing. The Arbitrator issued an award sustaining the grievance and ordering the reinstatement of the officer. The City then challenged the Arbitrator’s opinion in court.

The City argued that the Arbitrator erred in admitting the polygraph testimony. The City contended that the Arbitrator’s decision on the issue violated a provision in the contract which provided that an arbitrator is “without power to make decisions contrary to or inconsistent with laws and rules and regulations having the force and effect of law.”

The Court was skeptical of the City’s argument to begin with, noting that the contractual language was “a standard clause in collective bargaining agreements that merely means an arbitrator’s award must not call for the commission of an illegal act. It also found that the Arbitrator’s admission of polygraph testimony was not, in fact, contrary to the law. The Court concluded that the proceeding “was an arbitration – not a criminal or civil trial. No law prohibits the introduction of polygraph testimony at arbitration hearings, which are not subject to the same evidentiary rules as courts of law.”

The Court concluded that there was no evidence that the Arbitrator exceeded his powers, and upheld the decision reinstating the officer.

City of Duluth v. Duluth Police Local, 2005 WL 1620352 (Minn.App. 2005).

This article appears in the September 2005 issue