Derek Austin was a lieutenant with the State of Connecticut Department of Corrections. Following Austin’s altercation with an inmate in 2002, the Department demoted him to corrections officer. Austin’s labor organization, Local 2001 of the Service Employees International Union, challenged the demotion in arbitration.
For reasons that are unclear, the grievance took four-and-a-half years to wind up before an arbitrator. At the outset of the hearing, the parties made a “submission” to the Arbitrator stipulating that the issues to be arbitrated were: (1) Was the demotion of Austin for just cause?; (2) If not, what shall be the remedy?
Following a hearing, an arbitrator issued an unusual award. While the Arbitrator “denied” the grievance and found that the demotion of Austin was for just cause, the Arbitrator also held that the demotion “cannot be extended in perpetuity.” The Arbitrator ordered that Austin be “re-promoted” to the rank of lieutenant within 60 days of the receipt of the award.
Following the Arbitrator’s award, the State filed a lawsuit seeking to vacate the award alleging that the Arbitrator exceeded his jurisdiction. In the eyes of the State, once the Arbitrator found that there was just cause for demotion, he had no authority to award any remedy.
The Court turned away the State’s challenge. The Court reasoned that “while the Arbitrator’s decision did not exactly respond to the precise language of the submission, the award granted by the Arbitrator properly conformed to the general submission presented to him, when that submission is read liberally. It was the parties’ voluntary and stipulated agreement to submit to arbitration in order to determine whether the State had acted with just cause in demoting Austin. The Arbitrator concluded that while there was just cause to discipline Austin, the chosen discipline of demotion must be conditioned upon such demotion being for a reasonable amount of time. The Arbitrator decided that Austin had been demoted long enough, and that, for his punishment to be considered as warranted by just cause, it was necessary that he be reinstated to a lieutenancy within 60 days. The Arbitrator did not exceed his powers.”
State of Connecticut v. Connecticut State Employees Association, 2008 WL 725181 (Conn. Sup. 2008).
This article appears in the June 2008 issue