Attorney Rome Wins Reinstatement for Beloved School Bus Driver Represented by UFCW Local 1459
Attorney David Rome and UFCW Local 1459 advocated for a veteran school bus driver regarded by students and supervisors alike for his professionalism and safe handling of a bus. In 22 years of service, the driver had never been disciplined. To the contrary, he had won plaudits, and once was heralded for saving a student's life. Students said that the driver "takes good care of us” and "keeps us safe.” But all that service, loyalty and success counted for little when the employer overreacted to a complaint of complaint that the driver engaged in innocuous horseplay. A group of students began playfighting and tickling one another while waiting for a bus. The kids then roped in the bus driver by tickling him. The driver briefly reciprocated.
An independent arbitrator found "he participated in their horseplay for a brief time. The parties agreed that there was no touching of bare skin, no abuse, no sexual overtones and the whole episode lasted about thirty seconds. None of the students complained to anyone about the incident." The school district suggested that the driver receive a 30-day suspension and some counseling. The private school bus company, however, insisted on termination.
An independent arbitrator reinstated the driver, determining that the employer failed to establish that the driver's conducts - innocuous, if reflecting poor judgment - qualified under the collective bargaining agreement's zero tolerance policy as "inappropriate touching." The Arbitrator found: "His employment record was good and perhaps outstanding, the students liked and totally trusted him to keep them safe. The parents, when told of the tickling, found no fault with it." She ordered the employer to reinstate the driver, make the driver whole for lost wages and benefits, and impose the 30-day suspension recommended by the school district. The Arbitrator also directed the Employer to pay the entire cost of the Arbitrator's fees, pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement.