Conflicting awards arising from same event are not "arbitrary and capricious" – arbitrator’s finding of no just cause upheld

A Cleveland police chase ultimately resulting in the fatal shooting of two civilians resulted in the discipline of a significant number of officers and supervisory personnel. Grievances involving the discipline of several police sergeants were submitted to arbitration. Arbitrator Nels Nelson upheld discipline of Sergeant Michael Donegan. While finding termination too severe, Arbitrator Nelson ordered the two year demotion of Sergeant Donegan for his conduct during the pursuit. Arbitrator Nelson’s award can be found here. Separately, Arbitrator Dennis Minni sustained a grievance filed on behalf of three sergeants finding an absence of just cause for discipline. Arbitrator Minni’s award can be found here. The apparent inconsistency between the two awards was noticed in the press. Arbitrators reach contrary verdicts in cases of Cleveland police supervisors disciplined in deadly chase

The City of Cleveland sought to set aside the award of Arbitrator Minni, but the trial court upheld, in relevant part, Arbitrator Minni’s award. The City appealed, and the Ohio County of Appeals has now affirmed.  Cleveland v. Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 8. The Court summarized the City’s argument:

On appeal, the City alleges that the “award is clearly beyond the arbitrator’s authority, is beyond the essence of the agreement, and denies the parties the benefit of their agreement.” As support for its position, the City compares this case to Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 8 v. Cleveland, 8th Dist. Cuyahoga No. 102565, 2015-Ohio-4188, in which this court affirmed the two-year demotion imposed by an arbitrator regarding Cleveland Police Sergeant Michael Donegan for his role in the same November 29, 2012 pursuit. Donegan held the same departmental rank as the Grievants in the case at hand and was also accused of failing to supervise and violating departmental polices during the pursuit. Therefore, according to the City, under the CBA, it is arbitrary and capricious if the Grievants are not subject to the same or similar discipline as Donegan. However, the discipline resulting from the two arbitrations is quite different: Donegan received a two-year demotion with loss of pay and the Grievants in the instant case received no discipline. This, the City argues, is arbitrary and capricious.

The Court rejected the City’s argument. It found Arbitrator Minna’s decision on whether there was just cause for the discipline to be expressly authorized by the cba. Accordingly, the decision drew its essence from the contract. While noting that the two awards may be “hard to reconcile,” it found that Arbitrator Minna’s decision was neither arbitrary nor capricious. Given the limited scope of review of arbitration awards, and the parties agreement to submit such disputes to an arbitrator for resolution, the Court affirmed the lower court decision confirming the award. 

Source: ADR