Court Upholds Arbitrator’s Opinion Ordering City To Return Officer To Patrol Duties

On November 8, 2004, Elliot Rosa, a patrol officer with the New Haven, Connecticut Police Department, was attacked in an elevator by an assailant wielding a knife. Rosa drew his service weapon and shot and killed the assailant. The incident, which occurred at about the same time as other fatal shootings involving New Haven police officers, spurred a great deal of negative publicity that was directed at the Department and at Rosa.

Immediately after the incident, the Police Chief removed Rosa from his assignment as a patrol officer and placed him on administrative duty. This resulted in Rosa losing the opportunity to earn additional income by working overtime hours and extra duty assignments. Subsequently, a prosecutor concluded that Rosa’s use of deadly force was both reasonable and justified, and Rosa was exonerated from any wrongdoing.

The Department ordered Rosa to submit to a fitness-for-duty evaluation. In a July 8, 2005 report, a psychologist opined that “Rosa is ready to resume the duties of a police officer with strong recommendation that he return to some type of psychological counseling.” After the fitness-for-duty evaluation, Rosa refused to participate in counseling, and the Chief did not permit Rosa to resume his assignment as a patrol officer.

Rosa’s labor organization, Local 530 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, filed a grievance, challenging the continued assignment to administrative duties. An arbitrator upheld the grievance, and ordered the Department to assign Rosa to regular patrol duties and to pay him $1,667 per month back pay dating to the receipt of the psychological evaluation.

The City challenged the Arbitrator’s opinion in the Appellate Court of Connecticut. The City contended that the decision to make an assignment to administrative duties was a management right not subject to reversal by an arbitrator.

The Court disagreed, and upheld the Arbitrator’s opinion. The Court pointed to the extremely broad “submission agreement” that gave the ability to the Arbitrator to resolve the question: “What shall be the disposition of this grievance?” The Court held that “an unrestricted submission such as this empowered the Arbitrator to decide all factual and legal questions concerning the submission. In making that decision, the Arbitrator interpreted the provision of the collective bargaining agreement concerning management’s right to assign work. The Arbitrator determined that a limitation of reasonableness was implicit in the article, and that management must exercise its right to assign work in a reasonable manner. On the basis of this interpretation, the Arbitrator concluded that the Chief’s exercise of his right to assign work was unreasonable.

“It is clear that the City disagreed with the Arbitrator’s interpretation of the management rights clause of the collective bargaining agreement. However, it is the Arbitrator’s judgment that was bargained for, and the Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Arbitrator merely because its interpretation of the agreement or contract at issue might differ from that of the Arbitrator.”

City of New Haven v. AFSCME, Council 15, Local 530, 943 A.2d 494 (Conn.App. 2008).

This article appears in the June 2008 issue