Long Island employment lawyer Peter Famighetti has won a ruling on a threshold issue concerning an arbitration for a faculty member of Nassau Community College. Famighetti represents a college professor in a dispute related to the professor’s bid to become chairperson of his department. The professor alleged the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement was violated during the election process and ultimately filed a grievance to challenge the election process. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discuss what happened next in the grievance process.
After the professor started the grievance process via his union, the college challenged whether the professor’s issue could be heard in an arbitration. The college asserted two primary arguments. First, the college lodged a procedural arbitrability argument. This means that the college argued that the professor’s issues could not be arbitrated because, procedurally, he waited too long to file an initial grievance. In other words, the college alleged that the union contract’s deadlines for filing a grievance were not met by the professor.
Second, the college made a substantive arbitrability argument. This means the college argued that the professor’s issue could not be arbitrated because a determination had already been made in another professor’s grievance proceeding which addressed the same issues presented in this professor’s grievance. Because of that determination, the professor could not arbitrate his claims.
These initial arguments could have proved fatal to the professor’s case. If the arbitrator ruled in favor of the college, the professor’s case would have been dismissed without the arbitrator ever hearing the merits of the case.
To resolve these initial questions, the arbitrator scheduled a hearing. Famighetti appeared at the hearing, technically representing the professor’s union, but in effect representing the interests of the professor. During the hearing, Famighetti presented evidence, and took the direct and cross examinations of witnesses.
On February 5, 2021, the arbitrator issued a decision ruling in favor of the professor and against the college, on both issues. On the procedural arbitrability question, the arbitrator determined that the issue turns on when the professor was actually harmed. The arbitrator held that the professor was harmed within 90 days of when he filed his grievance, as required by his contract. Accordingly, the college’s argument concerning procedural arbitrability did not have merit and the college’s application to dismiss the grievance on this point was dismissed.
On the substantive arbitrability question, the arbitrator held that the issue concerns a point of law called collateral estoppel. Collateral estoppel means that a party cannot re-litigate an issue which has already been decided in another proceeding. In ruling on this argument, the arbitrator determined that the professor’s issues raised in his grievance were not decided in a previous matter. The arbitrator determined that the professor challenged the results of a second election for department chair. The previous grievance filed by another candidate challenged was whether the department was required to hold a meeting concerning the dispute about the election. Thus, the issues were not identical and the substantive arbitrability argument was rejected.
In sum, Famighetti defeated an employer’s attempt to have his client’s arbitration dismissed. Famighetti presented evidence at a hearing, then submitted written arguments detailing the reasons that the college’s bases for dismissal were improper. Ultimately, the neutral arbitrator agreed with Famighetti and ruled in favor of his client, the employee, who will now have his “day in court.” Next, the case will be scheduled for further hearing dates so the arbitrator can rule on the merits of the case.
If you have questions about arbitration or union grievances, contact a Long Island employment lawyer at 631-352-0050. More information is available on our website at http://linycemploymentlaw.com.