Pyle Rome Secures Reinstatement Victory at Vermont Supreme Court; Respect for Vermont Labor Relations Board

June 14, 2024

On behalf of Vermont State Employees Association (VSEA), Attorney Patrick Bryant persuaded the Vermont Supreme Court to issue the first decision affirming the reinstatement of a state employee in nearly two decades. The Vermont Supreme Court's decision further strengthened the primary role of the Vermont Labor Relations Board (VLRB) in interpreting collective bargaining agreements governing state employees.

By statute and contract, the VLRB serves as the final and binding arbiter of grievances filed by the VSEA and state employees. The VLRB assigns a three-person panel from its six board members to resolve each grievance. Every panel includes one management designee, one labor designee, and one neutral designee. Much like arbitrators, the VLRB has developed an expertise at interpreting collectively bargained language. It therefore is important for the Vermont Supreme Court to recognize this expertise. Otherwise, disgrunted parties will be encouraged to appeal contract interpretations by the VLRB with impunity.

The attached case involved a state employee whose termination was reversed following a full evidentiary hearing. The VLRB accepted evidence from witnesses and documents, and reviewed arguments and briefs by the VSEA and the State. The Board's reversal was based upon factual findings, determinations of witness credibility, and, pertinent here, its interpretation of policies incorporated into the CBA for Supervisory employees. The sole issue on appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court concerned the appropriateness of the VLRB's interpretation of a state policy incorporated by reference into the CBA. The majority of the Vermont Supreme Court agreed that its role was limited - determining only whether VLRB's interpretation, supported by the text and a review of cases interpreting similar language in statutes, was reasonable: "It is not our role on appeal to reinterpret the Board's reasonable legal conclusions, such as their reading of a CBA, de novo." The Court noted that the State's criticism of the VLRB is, in actually, a criticism of itself; the policies in dispute were written by the state. Blame for the VLRB's interpretation rests with entirely with the State's failure to provide more specific guidance. "In the absence of further definitional direction, the Board's analytical framework was acceptable."

The Court's decision represents a strong affirmation of just cause protection for employees, and the pivotal role of an independent state agency to guide labor relations and interpret union contracts.

subscribe to email updates