Arbitrator Has Right To Refuse To Order Reinstatement, Even If No Just Cause Exists For Discharg

Douglas Senn was a constable for the Town of Westbrook, Connecticut. On May 14, 2002, Senn was at a meeting with his fellow officers discussing potential work assignments. At that meeting, Senn stood up and declared, “I’m not working with niggers, Puerto Ricans or assholes….” As a result of that comment, a complaint was filed against Senn, ultimately leading to the termination of his employment on September 4, 2002.

Senn’s labor organization, Local 1257 of AFSCME, challenged Senn’s termination in arbitration. At the outset of the hearing, Local 1257 and the Town submitted the following issue to the arbitration panel: “Whether the Town had just cause to terminate the employment of Douglas Senn. If not, what shall the remedy be?” After an evidentiary hearing, the panel found that the defendant had terminated Senn’s employment without just cause. As a remedy, the panel ordered that Senn receive back pay, but the panel did not order that he be reinstated.

Local 1257 challenged the arbitration decision in court, arguing that once the panel found there was no just cause to terminate Senn, reinstatement was required. The Connecticut Court of Appeals found no basis to disturb the arbitration award, and rejected the appeal.

The Court ruled that “in determining whether an arbitrator has exceeded the authority granted under the contract, a court cannot base the decision on whether the Court would have ordered the same relief, or whether or not the Arbitrator correctly interpreted the contract. The Court must instead focus on whether the Arbitrator had authority to reach a certain issue, not whether that issue was correctly decided. Consequently, as long as the Arbitrator is even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of authority, the award must be enforced.

“Here, the submission does not limit the nature of the remedy that the panel could fashion once it determined that Senn’s employment had been terminated without just cause. Thus, the panel’s failure to reinstate Senn cannot be construed as a failure to conform with the submission. Additionally, in light of Senn’s use of a highly derogatory racial slur regarding his fellow officers, we find astonishing Senn’s claim that considerations of public policy require his return to his law enforcement duties. Suffice it to say, we disagree.”

Westbrook Police Union, Local 1257, Council 15, AFSCME, AFL-CIO v. Town of Westbrook, 2010 WL 4654243 (Conn. App. 2010).

This article appears in the March 2011 issue.