Officer Has No Right To Enforce Contract Requirements Through Civil Service Board

John Powers was a police officer with the Seattle, Washington Police Department. When the City terminated his employment, Powers appealed to the City’s Public Safety Civil Service Commission. Powers argued that a provision in the collective bargaining agreement between the City and the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, his labor organization, prevented the City from imposing any discipline based upon non-criminal acts that occurred more than three years prior to an officer’s notification of the charges of misconduct. Powers contended that the City’s allegations against him occurred beyond the three-year threshold.

The Civil Service Commission ruled that it did not have the authority to enforce the collective bargaining agreement provision, and concluded that the City had just cause to terminate Powers. Powers then challenged the Commission’s decision in federal court. The Court dismissed the lawsuit. The Court found that Powers’ exclusive remedy for enforcing any provision of the contract was to file a grievance under the contact’s grievance procedure. Since the contract allowed an officer challenging discipline to either file a grievance under the contract or contest the discipline before the Civil Service Commission, the Court found that Powers had made a knowing choice in proceeding before the Commission.

The Court held that “Powers never brought his claim before the disciplinary review board established by the contract. Instead, Powers chose to pursue his claim in a forum that lacks authority to hear his breach of contract claim. Powers did not exhaust his contractual remedies by bringing his claim in the wrong forum. An employee can bypass a mandatory arbitration provision only if he or she alleges that the Union acted arbitrarily, discriminatorily, or in bad faith. Powers had never raised that allegation, so the Guild’s actions or inactions cannot excuse his failure to exhaust his contract remedies.”

Powers v. City of Seattle, 2007 WL 1821020 (W.D.Wash. 2007).

This article appears in the August 2007 issue