Disciplinary Matrix Subordinate To ‘Just Cause” Provision In Contract

The City of Findlay, Ohio and the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association are parties to a collective bargaining agreement. Sergeant David Hill has worked for the Findlay Police Department since 1999.

On July 6, 2012, Hill helped to create a video of him using a taser against the son of a fellow officer. The video violated the Department’s social media policy. As a result, the Department issued Hll a written reprimand. On July 27, 2012, Hill made disparaging comments about another fellow officer’s mental health and placed the barrel of his service weapon into his own mouth. Hill received a 30-day suspension for that incident.

In November 2012, while his grievance challenging the suspension was awaiting arbitration, Hill referred to Officer Morgan Greeno as “Whoregan” in response to a question about the committee coordinating an upcoming Fraternal Order of Police Christmas party. Greeno filed a complaint because she thought the comment could have been related to her scheduled testimony against Hill at the arbitration hearing. She also claimed that Hill had made and condoned comments based on the running joke that she was pregnant with the baby of a municipal building custodian. The Department fired Hill for the November offense, and he challenged his termination in arbitration.

The Arbitrator hearing the suspension case reduced the suspension from 30 to ten days, concluding that the original suspension “exceeded the disciplinary matrix without justification.” The Arbitrator hearing the termination case found the Department failed to prove that Hill’s actions violated the Department’s sexual harassment policy, and that the termination should be reversed. However, he concluded that the City had “just cause to impose severe discipline” because Hill had engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer and had failed to properly carry out his supervisory duties. The Arbitrator reinstated Hill without back pay.

The City challenged the second arbitrator’s decision, arguing that the Arbitrator exceeded his authority by departing from the City’s disciplinary matrix, which the City contended “gives sole discretion to the Chief of Police to choose between a three to ten-day suspension or termination.” The Ohio Supreme Court rejected the City’s challenge and upheld the Arbitrator’s opinion.

The Court ruled that “where an arbitrator’s decision draws its essence from the collective bargaining agreement, and in the absence of language in the agreement that would restrict such review, the arbitrator, after determining that there was just cause to discipline an employee, has the authority to review the appropriateness of the type of discipline imposed. An arbitrator has broad authority to fashion a remedy, even if the remedy contemplated is not explicitly mentioned in the labor agreement.

“Here, the CBA does not mention the Police Department’s disciplinary procedures or the matrix, and no language in the CBA restricts an arbitrator’s authority to review the appropriateness of the type of discipline imposed after the arbitrator has determined that there is just cause to discipline an employee for the type of misconduct at issue in this matter. Although the CBA reserves the City’s right to develop work rules and obligates OPBA members to comply with those rules, the City’s right to develop rules is not a right to determine what particular form of discipline it has just cause to impose for a violation of those rules.

“Stated differently, the City’s right to develop rules is not the right to unilaterally define the meaning of the phrase ‘just cause’ for purposes of the CBA – a right that is not contemplated by the agreement. Although nothing in the CBA precludes the City from using the matrix as a guide in imposing discipline, treating the matrix as binding on the arbitrator would conflict with the just cause requirement for discipline that the City and the OPBA negotiated into the CBA and would undermine the integrity of the entire collective bargaining process.”

Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association v. City of Findlay, 2017 WL 2458224 (Ohio 2017).