Appeals Court Agrees with Attorney Bryant to Affirm Final And Binding Arbitration Award Ordering Town of Winthrop to Reinstate ex-Police Union President
Most collective bargaining agreements provide that an arbitrator's resolution of a grievance is "final and binding." That means the parties accept the decision, even if they think it wrong, illogical or contradicted by the facts. Many Massachusetts public employers disregard that language when confronted with an arbitration decision they dislike. That is what happened after Attorney Patrick Bryant, representing Winthrop Police Local 421, Massachusetts Coalition of Police, IUPA, AFL-CIO, won the reinstatement of a longtime union president terminated for alleged misconduct.
In January 2015, Winthrop terminated the then-police union president Ferruccio Romeo for alleged dishonesty and fraud.
The contract entitled the Union to resolve the discipline through final and binding arbitration. A neutral arbitrator heard the facts and witnesses from the Town and Union for several days. He concluded that the Town could not substantiate the charges of untruthfulness and fraud against the longtime police officer and union president. On February 28, 2016, he directed the Town to reinstate the officer, and make him whole for lost wages and benefits resulting from the wrongful termination.
Despite agreeing to "final and binding" arbitration, the Town refused to accept this independent reproach of their discipline. A Superior Court judge, unfortunately, also disregarded the final and binding nature of arbitration awards by finding facts and making credibility decisions on her own. (Unlike the arbitrator, the judge found facts without any basis in the record). Despite appellate courts prohibiting superior court judges from second-guessing arbitration awards, the judge reversed the arbitration award on April 5, 2017.
Thankfully, the Appeals Court restored the judiciary's respect for the finality of arbitration. The three-member panel write, "Here, ... the arbitrator's award does not violate the well-defined public policy requiring honesty in police officers because the arbitrator found that Romeo was not dishonest.... [W]here, as here, the arbitrator found no underlying misconduct, the award ordering reinstatement must be affirmed."
Nearly 3.5 years after being unlawfully terminated, Romeo is closer to being restored to a job he was wrongly terminated from and being made whole for economic losses he should have been forced to suffer.