Victor Raynor was a police officer for the Atlantic Beach, Florida Police Department. The Department charged Raynor with using inappropriate force. He was at first counseled verbally and recommended for anger counseling, but after an internal investigation he was fired.
Raynor’s labor organization, the Fraternal Order of Police, referred to arbitration a grievance challenging the termination. An arbitrator reversed the termination decision, finding among other things that the Department’s investigation breached due process and that the issuance of the verbal counseling raised double jeopardy concerns about the later termination. The County challenged the Arbitrator’s decision in court, arguing that under Florida law, an arbitrator has no authority to decide due process or double jeopardy issues.
The Florida Court of Appeals upheld the Arbitrator’s opinion. The Court cited the broad authority given arbitrators under the law, observing that “an arbitrator’s award settling a dispute with respect to the interpretation or application of a labor agreement must draw its essence from the contract. The proper inquiry here is whether the Arbitrator was arguably construing or applying the terms of the contract. So far as the Arbitrator’s decision concerns construction of the contract, the courts have no business overruling him because their interpretation of the contract is different from his.”
The Court found that the Arbitrator had the authority to decide the double jeopardy and due process issues. The Court reasoned that “the Arbitrator arguably may have construed the contract to require the employer to make a thorough and impartial evaluation of the seriousness of the offense. And application of the double jeopardy concept ultimately draws its essence from the contract because the contract incorporates by reference the Florida Police Officer Bill of Rights, requiring written notice of disciplinary action.”
Raynor v. Florida State Lodge, 987 So.2d 152 (Fla.App. 2008).
This article appears in the October 2008 issue