Heart-Lung Claim Subject To Arbitration

Robert Shaw was employed as a patrol officer by the Township of Aston, Pennsylvania. Shaw was injured on Christmas Eve, 2001, while on the job. As a result of his temporary injuries, Shaw was eligible for and received benefits pursuant to Pennsylvania’s Heart and Lung Act, a workers’ compensation-type statute that provides for special benefits for law enforcement officers and firefighters. Shaw was also awarded workers’ compensation benefits.

In 2004, Shaw returned to work because his temporary disability had ceased and his Heart and Lung benefits were automatically terminated. Shaw then filed a grievance with his union, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), seeking the continuation of Heart and Lung benefits. When the grievance was denied, Shaw petitioned to the American Arbitration Association (AAA) to appoint an arbitrator to hear his grievance. AAA refused to do so on the grounds that only the Township and the FOP were parties to the collective bargaining agreement, and not Shaw.

Shaw then filed a petition in Pennsylvania State Court, asking the Court to appoint a special hearing officer to determine his eligibility for Heart and Lung benefits. When a trial court denied the request, Shaw appealed to Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court (Pennsylvania’s equivalent of a Court of Appeals).

The Court rejected Shaw’s appeal, determining that Shaw’s sole remedy was through the grievance procedure in the collective bargaining agreement. The Court reasoned that “the Act itself does not establish or identify a specific forum in which to adjudicate the entitlement of Heart and Lung benefits. However, the courts have held that disputes regarding entitlement to Heart and Lung benefits may be resolved through the grievance arbitration process if provided for in a mutually-agreed upon collective bargaining agreement. Here, Shaw was employed pursuant to and bound by the terms and conditions of the collective bargaining agreement. In addition, Shaw’s rate of salary and benefits were defined in the agreement.”

The Court pointed to the definition of “grievance” in the contract as including all “disputes relating to or arising out of all state and local statutes, regulations or rules relating to police officers and/or terms or conditions of their employment.” In the Court’s view, Shaw’s “dispute involves a state statute that related to a term and condition of Shaw’s employment. Therefore, it must be resolved according to the grievance resolution process defined in the contract.”

Shaw v. Township of Aston, 2007 WL 517673 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2007).

The article appears in our April 2007 issue.