Court Upholds Arbitrator’s Opinion Overturning Disciplinary Transfers Of Officers

Gregory Thornton and Christopher Plummer are officers with the City of Dayton, Ohio Police Department. On September 18, 2002, both officers attended a Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) golf outing where they consumed beer and became intoxicated. Returning home, they were passing through the area where both were regularly assigned when they stopped and harassed a group of residents.

Following citizen complaints, the Department conducted an investigation. Following temporary suspensions of Thornton and Plummer, the Department transferred the officers from their duty in the First District to the Department’s Second District nearby. Approximately two months later, each was transferred to districts farther removed from the First District.

The two officers filed grievances concerning both of their transfers pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between the City and the FOP. The grievances were referred for arbitration. After hearings were held, an arbitrator sustained the grievances and found against the City, ordering the transfers rescinded.

The City then challenged the Arbitrator’s decision in court, alleging that the Arbitrator had exceeded his powers and departed from the essence of the collective bargaining agreement. The Ohio Court of Appeals rejected the City’s challenge.

The Court pointed to the disciplinary clause in the parties’ collective bargaining agreement which limits disciplinary sanctions to terminations, demotions, or suspensions. The Court found that “transfers for disciplinary measures which, by negative implication, are prohibited by the collective bargaining agreement.” In the Court’s judgment, this meant that the Arbitrator’s award had a “rational nexus” to the collective bargaining agreement, and therefore should be upheld.

The City also argued that the Arbitrator’s award violated an explicit public policy favoring public respect for law enforcement, which in the City’s eyes was “diminished when officers who have engaged in misconduct that produced public complaints are not removed from the area of the community where the misconduct happened.” While the Court acknowledged that such public policy existed, it also concluded that it did not have the ability to reject an arbitrator’s award absent evidence of a “material mistake or extensive impropriety.” The Court found that neither a material mistake or extensive impropriety were present in the Arbitrator’s award.

City of Dayton v. Fraternal Order of Police, 2006 WL 574307 (OhioApp. 2006).

This article appears in the May 2006 issue