Arbitrator’s Decision Insisting On Technical Details For Grievance Overturned On Public Policy Grounds

The District of Columbia and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) are parties to a collective bargaining agreement governing the rank-and-file members of the Metropolitan Police Department. The FOP filed a grievance challenging what it believed to be an inappropriate delay in paying overtime for police officers who worked a detail providing security and escort services during the cleanup and detoxification of the World War I-era hazardous waste site in a portion of the city. As the FOP was processing the grievance through the grievance procedure, it noted what it referred to as a “technical deficiency” in the grievance mis-citation to an inoperative and inapplicable provision of the collective bargaining agreement, and sought to correct the mistake.

An arbitrator rejected the grievance because the FOP had filed the grievance under the wrong contract article. The Arbitrator concluded that the FOP has not filed a “proper” grievance because it had “incorrectly cited terms that were not terms of the collective bargaining agreement, nor have they been terms of the collective bargaining agreement at any time during its lifetime, and this mis-citation to an inoperative provision does not appear to be a mere technicality but rather has every appearance of the substantive reality.”

The FOP challenged the arbitration decision in the District's Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). When PERB upheld the Arbitrator's opinion, the FOP challenged PERB's decision in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

The Court sided with the FOP and overturned the Arbitrator's opinion. The Court found that “the Arbitrator's refusal to reach the merits of the dispute both frustrates the purpose reflected in the contract to make arbitration the method of resolving grievances which have not been satisfactorily resolved internally, and contravenes the well-defined and dominant policy favoring arbitration of the dispute where the parties have chosen that course. We do not read the Arbitrator's refusal to reach the merits of the FOP's claim as an interpretation of the contract. Instead, his refusal to reach the merits because of a hyper-technical defect that did not disguise the actual grievance and misled no one as to its nature, far from promoting the parties' bargain, erects an artificial barrier to resolution of the dispute in the manner they have chosen. This, PERB should have recognized, violates the clear policy in favor of enforcing arbitration agreements.”

District of Columbia Public Employee Relations Bd. v. Fraternal Order of Police/Metropolitan Police Dept. Labor Committee, 2010 WL 304597 (D.C. 2010).

This article appears in the March 2010 issue