Union, Not Officer, Is Party To Arbitration Challenging Officer’s Termination

Lazario Ruiz was a police officer with the City of North Las Vegas, Nevada. Ruiz was a member of the North Las Vegas Police Officers Association. When the City fired Ruiz for untruthfulness, the Association challenged the decision in arbitration. An arbitrator upheld Ruiz’s discharge, finding that the City had just cause for its decision.

The Association then assigned to Ruiz its right to challenge the arbitration decision, and Ruiz individually petitioned a trial court to vacate the arbitration decision and to remand the matter for a new arbitration proceeding. The City objected, arguing that Ruiz lacked standing to challenge the Arbitrator’s decision because he was not a party to the arbitration proceeding.

The Nevada Supreme Court largely agreed with the City’s position. The Court found that “other jurisdictions that have adopted the Uniform Arbitration Act have held that an individual employee does not have standing as a ‘party’ to challenge an arbitration decision rendered in a proceeding between the employee’s union and his or her employer. Neither Nevada’s arbitration law nor the contract between the Association and the City defines ‘party’ to include individual Association members. In fact, the contract specifically states that ‘this Agreement is made…by and between the City…and the Association.’
Moreover, the ‘Grievance and Arbitration Procedure’ set forth in the contract clearly provides that the Union is the party responsible for filing a grievance and pursuing arbitration.”

The Court also found that the Association could not assign to Ruiz its rights to appeal the Arbitrator’s decision. The Court found that nothing in the contract allowed such an assignment, and that “assigning to Association members the right to seek judicial relief would impose an additional burden on the City, potentially requiring it to expend additional time, money, and resources on litigating an arbitration decision that it had thought would be binding. We conclude that an assignment by the Association of the right to appeal an arbitration decision would materially increase the City’s obligations under the contract. Thus, unless a contract expressly permits assignment of rights to a union member, we conclude that such an assignment is invalid.”

The Court’s decision was not a complete victory for the City, however. Ruiz also raised a claim that the Arbitrator’s decision violated his rights under Nevada’s statutory Peace Officer Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights specifically provides:

“Any peace officer aggrieved by an action of the employer of the peace officer in violation of [the Peace Officer Bill of Rights] may, after exhausting any applicable internal grievance procedures, grievance procedures negotiated pursuant to [collective bargaining] and other administrative remedies, apply to the district court for judicial relief.”

The Court found that this language granted Ruiz “standing to individually challenge the arbitration decision because the decision upheld his termination that was based upon information allegedly obtained in violation of his Peace Officer Rights. Assuming that Ruiz ‘exhausted’ any applicable internal or CBA-negotiated grievance procedures, the plain language of the Bill of Rights grants Ruiz the right to challenge the arbitration decision in district court.”

Ruiz v. City of North Las Vegas, 2011 WL 1900046 (Nev. 2011).

This article appears in the August 2011 issue