Arbitrator Has No Ability To Apply State Statute

Pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement between the Sheriff of Suffolk County, Massachusetts and AFSCME Council 93, which represents the County’s corrections officers, Correction Officer Michael Doherty filed a grievance challenging the manner in which the Sheriff calculated Doherty’s seniority date. An arbitrator upheld Doherty’s grievance and ordered the Sheriff to upgrade his rank to sergeant, at the top-step level.

The Sheriff brought a lawsuit to overturn the Arbitrator’s opinion on the grounds that the Arbitrator exceeded his authority. The Appeals Court of Massachusetts agreed with the Sheriff, and vacated the Arbitrator’s decision.

The heart of the dispute was the Arbitrator’s conclusion that a state statute controlled the disposition of the grievance and compelled the Sheriff to grant Doherty credit for time served on duty disability leave. The statute provided that “upon return to work, an employee shall again become a member in service and regular deductions shall again be made from his regular compensation. Any prior creditable service in effect for him at the time of his retirement for disability shall thereupon be restored to full force and effect.”

In the eyes of the Court, the Arbitrator’s application of the state statute exceeded his authority. The Court observed that the grievance procedure in the contract limited an arbitrator’s jurisdiction to “only matters involving the question of whether the municipal employer is complying with the express provisions of this agreement,” and that “the Arbitrator shall be without power to alter, amend, add to, or detract from the language of this agreement.”

The Court concluded that “the collective bargaining agreement’s grievance procedure gave the Arbitrator no authority to construe statutory rights. Rather, it clearly and unambiguously limited grievances to matters involving compliance with the express provisions of the contract. Thus, the Arbitrator only had authority to draw his award from the agreement’s express positions. As the Arbitrator went outside the agreement to craft his award, he exceeded the authority granted to him by the parties.”

Sheriff of Suffolk County v. AFSCME Council 93, 856 N.E.2d 194 (Mass.App. 2006).