Arbitrator Not Required To Disclose Service On Arbitration Panel With Different Police Agency

Michael Thomas and John Armstrong were terminated from their positions as police officers with the City of North Las Vegas, Nevada Police Department. Under the collective bargaining agreement between the City and the North Las Vegas Police Officers Association, disciplinary appeals are handled through binding arbitration. However, the Association rejected Thomas’ and Armstrong’s request for arbitration.

Thomas and Armstrong sued both the City and the Association. A court ordered arbitration of their grievances, and an arbitrator later concluded that the City had grounds for discharge and upheld the terminations. Thomas and Armstrong then filed a motion to vacate the arbitration award, arguing essentially that the Arbitrator improperly failed to disclose information that could bear upon his impartiality.

The information the Arbitrator failed to disclose was that he served on an arbitration panel for a different employer – the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (Metro) – under collective bargaining agreements for two of the labor organizations with which Metro collectively bargains. Thomas and Armstrong argued that the Arbitrator’s failure to disclose the information meant he was guilty of “evident partiality.” In the eyes of the courts, “evident partiality is established from the non-disclosure itself, regardless of whether the undisclosed information actually establishes evident partiality or bias.”

The Nevada Supreme Court turned away Thomas’ and Armstrong’s claims.

Thomas and Armstrong contended that the Arbitrator was required to disclose his panel appointment because he had an ongoing pecuniary interest in doing work with Metro and the two other labor organizations. Further, Thomas and Armstrong asserted that the Arbitrator’s interest was pertinent because Metro and North Las Vegas Police Department’s health insurance was inter-related and because the two departments worked closely together.

The Court was unimpressed with these arguments. The Court found that the Arbitrator’s membership on the arbitration panel was not a “managerial, representational, or consultative relationship. Under the code of professional responsibility for arbitrators of labor-management disputes published by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, an arbitrator must disclose any close personal relationship or other circumstance which might reasonably raise a question as to the Arbitrator’s impartiality.” Previous or current service as a neutral arbitrator for a particular employer and/or union is not a relationship requiring disclosure under the code. Absent some personal relationship or other special circumstance mandating disclosure, such service is not a circumstance which might reasonably raise a question as to the Arbitrator’s impartiality.

Thomas v. City of North Las Vegas, 127 P.3d 1057 (Nev. 2006).

This article appears in the April 2006 issue