Arbitrator, Not Court, Determines Whether Grievance Is Timely

In June 2012, the Village of Tequesta, Florida terminated Officer John Cox’s employment. A collective bargaining agreement between Cox’s union and the Village provided for termination “for just cause.” The agreement set forth a three-step grievance and arbitration procedure to be followed in the event an employee challenged his or her termination.

When the Village refused to process Cox’s grievance to arbitration, he brought a lawsuit seeking to compel arbitration. The Florida Court of Appeals recently ordered the Village to submit to arbitration.

The core issue before the Court was who – a court or the arbitrator – should decide the Village’s defense that Cox’s grievance was not filed in a timely fashion. The Village argued that timeliness issues were a prerequisite to arbitration, and that a court should decide them.

The Court disagreed with the Village. The Court found that “Florida public policy favors arbitration, and any doubts concerning the scope of an arbitration agreement should be resolved in favor of arbitration. Significantly, an arbitrator should decide whether the first two steps of a grievance procedure were completed, where these steps are prerequisites to arbitration.” The Court cited the words of the United States Supreme Court: “Doubt whether grievance procedures or some part of them apply to a particular dispute, whether such procedures have been followed or excused, or whether the unexcused failure to follow them avoids the duty to arbitrate cannot ordinarily be answered without consideration of the merits of the dispute which is presented for arbitration. It would be a curious rule which required that intertwined issues of substance and procedure growing out of a single dispute and raising the same questions on the same facts had to be carved up between two different forums, one deciding after the other. Neither logic nor considerations of policy compel such a result.

“Once it is determined, as we have, that the parties are obligated to submit the subject matter of a dispute to arbitration, procedural questions which grow out of the dispute and bear on its final disposition should be left to the arbitrator. Timeliness is a question for an arbitrator.”

Cox v. Village of Tequesta, 2016 WL 403252 (Fla. App. 2016).