Arbitrators’ Opinions Can Be Inconsistent

The Town of Windsor Locks, Connecticut is party to a collective bargaining agreement with Local 523 of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers. In a very short period of time, there were two arbitration decisions involving Officer Michael Bracken, who was returning to duty after he had been on an extended sick leave. The Town questioned Bracken’s fitness to return to duty even though two physicians had found him physically fit.

In the first arbitration case, the parties agreed upon the following statement of the issue: “Did the Town violate the contract when it ordered Officer Michael S. Bracken to undergo a psychological examination? If so, what shall be the remedy?” An arbitration panel found that the management rights provision in the collective bargaining agreement authorized the Town to refer Bracken for testing by Stephen Sarfaty, a psychologist.

In the second arbitration case, the statement of the issue was: “Did the Town of Windsor Locks violate the collective bargaining agreement when it placed the grievant, Officer Michael Bracken, on unpaid administrative leave? If so, what shall be the remedy?” The second arbitration panel rejected the Town’s contention that Bracken’s leave without pay was justified by the results of his psychological examination by Sarfaty, who had found him unfit to return to duty. The arbitration panel concluded that, under other provisions of the collective bargaining agreement, a grievant could be placed on administrative leave without pay only if the disqualifying opinion was that of a certified physician. Because the Town had not established that Sarfaty was a physician, the panel ruled in favor of Local 523.

The Town challenged the second arbitration decision, arguing that the decision was inconsistent with the first arbitration award. The Connecticut Court of Appeals responded: “We are not persuaded. Our case law consistently has established the principle that courts play only a limited role in the review of arbitral awards. When the scope of the submission is unrestricted, the resulting award is not subject to de novo review even for errors of law so long as the award conforms to the submission. Because we favor arbitration as a means of settling private disputes, we undertake judicial review of arbitration awards in a manner designed to minimize interference with an efficient and economical system of alternative dispute resolution.

“The Town argues that, because both arbitrations raised questions about whether Bracken is fit to return to duty, they are parts of the same controversy and must be resolved consistently. Its appellate brief cites no authority in support of this argument and we know of none.”

The Court was also unconvinced that the two arbitration awards were in fact inconsistent: “The first arbitral panel was not confronted with facially inconsistent appraisals of Bracken’s fitness for duty. As a legal matter, the first arbitral panel addressed the Town’s contractual authority to require Bracken to undergo psychological testing, while the second panel addressed the Town’s contractual authority to defer payment of Bracken’s wages. Because these are not the same questions, their answers need not be consistent.”

Town of Windsor Locks v. International Broth. of Police Officers, Local 523, 17 A.3d 499 (Conn. App. 2011).