Category Archives: Labor In The News

BPPA Wins at SJC: Court Upholds Arbitration Award Reinstating Boston Police Officer

Arbitrator Found That Officer David Williams Did Not Use Excessive Force During Arrest

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) has ruled in favor of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association (“BPPA”) and against the City of Boston in a major case that tested the limits of the non-delegable management rights doctrine. In City of Boston v. BPPA, which was decided by a unanimous court on July 12, 2017 (Hines, J. writing the opinion), the SJC affirmed a labor arbitrator’s award ordering the City to reinstate wrongly discharged Boston Police Officer David Williams. The City appealed to the SJC after a Superior Court judge affirmed the arbitrator’s award. Attorney Alan H. Shapiro, a partner with Sandulli Grace, P.C., represented the BPPA in the arbitration and court proceedings with the assistance of Sandulli Grace attorney John M. Becker.

The case began in the early morning hours of March 16, 2009 when Officer Williams and another Boston Police Officer reported to the North End for a traffic dispute. When a St. Patrick’s Day reveler became unruly and refused to leave the street, the other officer attempted to arrest him, but the man began to fight back and resist. Officer Williams came to the assistance of his fellow officer and subdued the unruly gentleman while the man’s two friends attempted to interfere. An initial perfunctory investigation by the Boston Police Department (“BPD”) into the incident did not reach any conclusions, but after the man filed a lawsuit, the BPD resumed investigating, placed Officer Williams on administrative leave in 2011 and eventually concluded that he had used excessive force during the arrest and had been untruthful about his actions. The BPD discharged Officer Williams in January 2012, almost three years after the incident.

The BPPA grieved the discharge under the collective bargaining agreement with the City, in which the parties have agreed that the BPD must have just cause to discharge a police officer and that the ultimate decision on whether the BPD has just cause is for a neutral arbitrator selected by mutual agreement of the City and BPPA. The BPPA argued that Officer Williams used appropriate force under the circumstances and was truthful in reporting his actions. After three days of hearing, the arbitrator rejected the City’s position that Officer Williams had used excessive force, finding instead that Williams had used appropriate force during the arrest and was truthful about his actions during the investigation. The arbitrator also found that the investigation was excessively lengthy and included arbitrary delays. He ordered the City to reinstate Officer Williams with full back pay and benefits, including back detail and overtime pay for the excessively long administrative leave.

The City appealed the arbitrator’s decision to Superior Court and then, after losing there, to the Supreme Judicial Court. The City argued that the non-delegable management rights doctrine, as embodied in the law known as the Commissioner’s Statute, prohibited arbitrators from contradicting the Boston Police Commissioner’s determination that an officer had used excessive force. In effect, the City argued that discipline and discharge were not subject to collective bargaining and that an arbitrator could not decide whether the City had just cause to discharge Officer Williams. The SJC was not willing to extend the management rights doctrine into the “core matters of discipline and discharge”, standards for which have always been subject to collective bargaining.

In reaching its conclusion, the SJC relied in part on a 1998 amendment to G.L. c. 150E, § 7(d), the law that enumerates which laws and regulations are superseded by collective bargaining agreements in the event of a conflict. The 1998 amendment, which was sponsored and supported by the BPPA, with the assistance of attorneys from Sandulli Grace, added the regulations of police commissioners to the list. The SJC found that this amendment gave arbitrators the right to interpret regulations promulgated by the Boston Police Commissioner pursuant to the Commissioner’s Statute and further found that where the arbitrator’s interpretation conflicted with the Commissioner’s, the arbitrator’s must prevail.

The SJC also took the opportunity to criticize the BPD for its handling of the investigation, noting that both the accused police officer and the public were disserved by the mishandling of the case and the lengthy delays in the investigation.

Sandulli Grace congratulates Officer Williams and his family on this victory and also the BPPA and its President, Pat Rose, who have supported Officer Williams throughout this long ordeal.

Why Can’t The Boston Teachers Get A New Contract?

Last week, I was talking with a business agent for a large public sector union which represents thousands of employees in the City of Boston. When our conversation turned to city negotiations, I asked why the Boston teachers couldn’t get a new contract, since the mayor had already settled with the firefighters and police officers (represented by the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association with the expert legal guidance of my colleague Susan Horwitz). He said that it had something to do with the teachers’ union protecting the jobs of 100 teachers who were in some kind of “rubber room.” Since I knew the “rubber room” refers to a place where New York City dumped lots of teachers awaiting disciplinary hearings for accusations of serious misconduct, I could only conclude that the union must be trying to protect problem teachers. Wanting to find out what is really going on, through a mutual friend, I went straight to the source. Below is a detailed explanation from Richard Stutman, President of the Boston Teachers Union. The bottom line is: the City wants to be able to get rid of many, perhaps 100, perfectly good teachers, many of whom have been rated as not just adequate, but exceptional teachers. Instead, they would rather hire those who are younger, cheaper, and less experienced. All unions, union members, and people who care about maintaining a system where qualified professionals can make a career in public service without fear of being cast aside for no reason, need to support the BTU’s fight for justice for all of its members. Below is a detailed explanation from President Stutman:

-Alan Shapiro

Each year in the Boston Public Schools we have school closings, programmatic readjustments (e.g., a school needs one fewer English Language Arts teacher, two more math teachers, and so on), a school (or two or three) converting to “Turnaround” status (a provision under state law which allows (in some cases, mandates) large staff turnover at a school, regardless of individual teacher competence), or other events, all of which ‘excess’ or push out a teacher or a group of teachers and thrust them into the land of the unassigned. This year we had one school closing, two schools forced into Turnaround status, and another school that underwent a status change (Level 5 to Level 5+) – altogether 150 teachers excessed from these four schools alone. At different changes in a school’s status, no less than 50% of the staff have to leave the school; at yearly intervals staff turnovers of up to 100% can occur. What does this mean?

Simply, because of these school status changes, we have perhaps hundreds of people forced to vacate schools each year – not because of individual performance or anything related to individual conduct or discipline – but because the school is undergoing a transformation ordered by the state or federal government.

So these teachers get ‘excessed’ and in a few cases, schools can take some of them back, either after or without an application process. In the vast majority of cases, those excessed become unassigned teachers looking for a permanent placement. This year there are 350 excessed teachers currently without an assignment. Regardless of how they got into this status, they are, as measured on the performance scale , similar to all other teachers in the system – no better, no worse.

A little background on the current group of 350 unassigned teachers. They were noticed in February and have from February to September to apply for a position. Most diligently apply for placement where there is a suitable position in their field.

Some have no place to apply. They may, for example, be in an ‘exotic’ field, teaching a subject that is not widely taught. Or they may teach a not-so-exotic field, but in a grade level where that subject is not needed. While most of the 350 will predictably find a position by September, some will not, and they’ll become “SPC’s” or people who will be assigned to a “Suitable Professional Capacity” on the first day of school.

People assigned to an SPC role get full pay and benefits and remain eligible to seek and accept any posting that opens up in the school system. While unassigned to a ‘real’ position, they work in a school in a variety of capacities: as a second teacher, teacher’s helper, paraprofessional, small group instructor, or in a similar support role. This year there are around 45 SPC’s. Next year, given the inevitable whittling down of the 350 unassigned now, there will be another 50 to 75 SPC’s (but we cannot be sure how many) added to the group of current 45 SPC’s. Let’s assume there will be 100 or so SPC’s next year, as some of the current SPC’s will undoubtedly resign, retire, or naturally find a position.

Here, then, is the issue:

Given the above, there is a steady, though fluctuating, core of 50 to 100 SPC’s, who remain in that status each year, costing the district annually $5 to $10M. This year, 2/3 of these teachers have been rated proficient or exemplary. Some have been SPC’s for a few years, some for a year. To a person, they want to get out of the status, obtain a ‘real’ position, and get on with their careers. But they are not guaranteed placement as principals retain the right to say ‘no’ to any particular applicant.

Some of the SPC’s apply to many schools looking for virtually anything, others are more selective. Unless an SPC finds a school and is accepted there, s/he remains in this status without a time limit.

Why aren’t these folks laid off? Under the BTU contract each SPC is guaranteed this status (full pay and benefits) for years without limit. This guarantee is seniority-based and means that the SPC can continue in the status provided there is a person in the same subject area who is junior to the SPC, even if that junior person has a ‘real’ position. There is no time limit.

Under the state law, the SPC has a right, as well, to continue in the same status – notwithstanding the provisions of the BTU contract — provided a non-permanent or provisional employee is working in that subject area. This adds to their protection.

Bottom line: the SPC has a right to stay in that position indefinitely, even without a real spot to claim.

From our point of view, these SPCs should be working in productive, real positions. Each has been trained and vetted, each has been rigorously evaluated under a new state Performance Evaluation system that the district has agreed to, and each is in his/her predicament through no fault of his/her own. Each has undergone anywhere from 30 to hundreds of hours of yearly Professional Development. None of those in this capacity are there as a result of any disciplinary proceeding. This is no rubber room.

(There are teachers awaiting disciplinary proceedings, and this small group is sent home to await the disciplinary process. None of these is an SPC.)

From the school district’s point of view, a principal should have the right to hire any person s/he chooses and these excessed teachers (SPC’s) are never forced into a school. The normal teaching turnover is approximately 500 teaching positions per year. The existence of SPC’s adds another 50 to 100 positions that have to be filled. This year the department has hired 600 new teachers.

We’d like to see the district put the SPC’s to work at their full capacity as teachers in the fields in which they are fully trained and qualified, and save anywhere from $5-10M per year. The school district, hiding behind the ideology of “not-forcing-a-person-into-a-position,” has the cash to withstand the cost of paying the unnecessary $5-$10M in yearly costs. We’d like to see the money used elsewhere.

Final point, in a circular twist to all of this – if the school department could redistribute the $5 to $10M that is spent on this issue, it would allow schools to add back teaching positions and cut back on the programmatic excessing that helps create the SPC problem in the first place.

In negotiations, we seek to keep the SPC’s employed in productive capacity until a ‘real’ vacancy opens up. The school district wishes to put a time limit on each SPC’s status and have us waive their contractual and statutory rights to employment. If that were to happen, eventually, dozens or even hundreds of fully qualified, experienced teachers would end up unemployed, while the school district hires new, generally inexperienced, and much cheaper teachers (starting teachers make about 35% less than those at the top of the salary schedule) to replace them.

SJC Rules Workers’ Comp Benefits are Not Compensation for Services Rendered

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a decision today (May 16th, 2017) that will further protect workers who are injured on the job and ensure that they continue receiving their workers’ compensation benefits even if they are suspended. The SJC overturned the decision of the Superior Court and reinstated the original ruling from the Department of Industrial Accidents, granting a former Boston EMS worker his workers’ compensation benefits. The case was handled by John Becker, Of Counsel to Sandulli Grace, he received assistance from former Sandulli Grace Attorney Jamie Goodwin who argued the case below.

The plaintiff in the case, Brian Benoit, had been an EMT and paramedic with Boston EMS for almost 20 years when he injured his ankle while transporting a patient. Unable to work, he filed for and received workers’ compensation benefits for almost a year under the Massachusetts workers’ Compensation Statute. Mass. G. L. c. 152. Boston EMS halted his workers’ comp payments in August of 2012, arguing that injury was not accidental. Benoit seeking to have his benefits reinstated, filed a complaint at the DIA in October of 2012. Shortly thereafter Benoit was indicted in an unrelated matter, and Boston EMS promptly placed him on suspension in accordance with G. L. c. 268A § 25. Under G. L. c. 268A § 25 public employees are barred from receiving compensation while on suspension. In addition to their argument that the injury was not accidental, Boston EMS also argued that Benoit’s workers’ compensation benefits constituted compensation for services and were therefore not obligated to pay them under the statute. The DIA ruled that Boston EMS had impermissibly denied Benoit his rightful workers’ comp benefits and ordered that they be reinstated. Boston EMS refused to comply with the order and appealed the decision in Superior Court, Benoit also filed an action in Superior Court to inforce the decision of the DIA.

The Superior Court determined workers’ compensation payments constituted compensation and granted the Motion to Dismiss brought by Boston EMS, Benoit appealed that decision. After pleading guilty and subsequently resigning from Boston EMS, Benoit refiled an action in Superior Court alleging that since he was no longer suspended, the suspension statute should no longer apply. The Superior Court disagreed with him once again, stating that since he was suspended at the time of his resignation he was still considered to be suspended. Benoit consolidated both of his appeals and the SJC removed the case from the Appellate court. While the SJC denied Benoit’s first two claims, they agreed with him that the workers’ Compensation Statute was not proscribed by the suspension statute.

workers’ Compensation in Massachusetts was originally enacted in 1911, and the statutory scheme protects workers who are injured while on the job. It allows the injured party to remain financially stable while protecting the employer from prohibitively costly settlements and judgments. When an employee pursues a workers’ compensation claim, they forfeit their right to sue their employer for damages. The no-fault system creates certainty for all parties, the injured employee knows the benefits they will receive and the employer knows what they are liable for. The act also mandates that every employer obtain workers’ compensation insurance from an insurer who will make the payments or obtain licensing as a self-insurer. If the employer chooses a third-party insurer, that insurer will be the one to pay out the workers’ compensation benefits. However, if the employer chooses to be self-insured, as Boston EMS did, they will be liable for all workers compensation payments. Employees can also opt out of the system in order to retain their right to sue, but they must do so at their time of hire. An injured employee will receive medical costs and weekly payments based on salary for a period of time depending on the nature and seriousness of their injury. The SJC decided this case on whether those payments consisted of compensation for services rendered.

While the court acknowledged that compensation is usually interpreted broadly, they recognized the limitations in G. L. c. 268A § 1(a) which defines compensation as any money, thing of value or benefit conferred or given to a person in return for services rendered. The restriction of ‘in return for services rendered’ became the deciding factor in this case. The SJC determined that workers’ compensation benefits are not conferred upon an injured employee for services rendered but because the employee waives the right to sue in order to guarantee benefits when he or she is injured. They differentiated the workers’ compensation act from other forms of compensation such as sick pay and unemployment insurance. The SJC also differentiated workers compensation benefits as they were outside the purview of the employer-employee relationship and instead based on the relationship between the employee and the insurer. The court specifically discussed the differences between workers’ compensation benefits and unemployment benefits. Unlike workers’ comp, the employee is not required to give up either their rights or money to receive unemployment. Unemployment benefits serve as a recognition of the services the employee performed while working and are directly tied to the employer who fund the unemployment insurance mechanism.

This ruling provides substantial protections for workers who are hurt on the job. Employer’s and insurance companies will be barred from denying payments due to a suspension stemming from misconduct. Employees will have the peace of mind that even if they are suspended while they are out of work they are still entitled to receive their workers’ compensation benefits.

Read The Decision

FREE TRAINING for MASSCOP Local Officials and Members

FREE TRAINING
for MASSCOP Local Officials and Members

TUESDAY JUNE 13, 2017

Sponsored and run by MassCOP officials and attorneys from Sandulli Grace, P.C., this free session will train you on topics that matter to your members, including:

• How to draft and process contractual grievances
• Handling employee discipline issues
• Preparing for and engaging in contract negotiations
• Tackling stress in the workplace

MassCOP believes in empowering its local unions through education to create a stronger, safer environment for its members. This training will give you tools to enforce your rights and improve your members’ working conditions.

The first training session will be held on Tuesday, June 13, 2017, at the Southbridge Police Department, 1 Mechanic Street, Southbridge, MA, from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Seating is limited, so please register by e-mailing GCapozzi@sandulligrace.com.

For more information, please visit our web sites:
www.sandulligrace.com
www.masscop.org

– LUNCH WILL BE SERVED –

Flyer for June 13 2017 Training Southbridge

MassCOP Scores Another Victory: Superior Court Orders Town of Middleton to Reinstate Wrongfully-Terminated Police Officer

Town Cannot Use Lack of License to Carry Firearms as Excuse to Avoid Complying with Arbitrator’s Award

An Essex Superior Court judge ruled late last month that the Town of Middleton, Massachusetts must reinstate a wrongfully-terminated police officer, even though the Middleton Police Chief has suspended the officer’s license to carry a firearm (“LTC”). The Superior Court judge’s ruling recognizes that allowing a police chief’s revocation or suspension of an LTC to prevent reinstatement after a lawful order of an arbitrator or other tribunal would effectively render the collectively-bargained protections against unjust discipline null and void. (Click here for the text of the Superior Court ruling.)

The case involves Brian Kelley, a veteran Middleton police officer who became involved in a domestic dispute in Maine on May 1 2013 that resulted in criminal charges against him. While the criminal case was pending the Middleton Police Chief exercised his discretion under G.L. c. 140, § 131 to suspend Kelley’s license to carry a firearm. Because the collective bargaining agreement between the Town of Middleton and the Middleton Police Union made the possession of an LTC a condition of employment, Kelley was unable to work and his employment was eventually terminated after the Town failed to reappoint him to his position. Subsequently, all the charges against Kelley were dismissed and he and his Union, the Middleton Police Benevolent Association, MassCOP Local 292, asked for him to be returned to his position. But the Chief and the Town refused to take Kelley back.

The Union filed a grievance on Kelley’s behalf under the CBA, which eventually reached a neutral arbitrator. MassCOP assigned Attorney Joseph Sandulli of Sandulli Grace, P.C. to represent the Union in the matter. Arbitrator Mary Jean Tufano ruled on November 20, 2014 that the Town did not have just cause to discharge Kelley. As a remedy, the arbitrator ordered the Town to reinstate Kelley with full back pay and benefits. In her decision, Arbitrator Tufano explained that while she had no authority to give Kelley back his LTC, she had the power and authority to make him whole for the Town’s violation of the CBA and that reinstatement was an essential element of the make whole remedy. She interpreted the entire CBA – including the remedial authority granted to her by the parties – to require this result. She noted that in light of the Chief’s unique discretion regarding LTCs, literal enforcement of the “LTC as condition of employment” language would mean that the Police Chief could effectively terminate the employment of any employee without just cause merely by suspending or revoking his or her LTC. She also noted that the reason given by the Police Chief for suspending the LTC – the pending criminal charges – no longer existed.

The Town of Middleton refused to obey the decision of the arbitration and instead filed a petition to vacate the arbitration award pursuant to G.L. c. 150C. MassCOP assigned Attorney John M. Becker, of Sandulli Grace, P.C. to represent the Union on the appeal. The case came before Judge Peter Lauriat in Essex Superior Court, who after briefs and oral argument, on February 28, 2017 denied the Town’s petition to vacate and instead confirmed the award. In ruling in the Union’s favor, Lauriat rejected the Town’s arguments that reinstating Officer Kelley violated public policy and would require the Town to violate the law. Instead of complying with the arbitration award, the Town on March 8, 2017 filed a motion asking the Superior Court to reconsider its decision, which is pending at this time.

Massachusetts Overhauls Public Records Law To Increase Access And Enforcement, Reduce Delays And Fees.

Significant changes to the state’s public records laws went into effect on January 1, 2017. The changes, which were passed by the Legislature in June 2016, clarify and elaborate upon the rights and obligations of the public entities in control of public records and the individuals and organizations seeking access to them. In many ways, the laws strengthen the power of citizens to gain access to public records in part by increasing the punishments for public entities that ignore public records requests or unreasonably delay in responding to them. In response to complaints that public entities have been gouging the public in assessing unreasonably high fees for producing documents, the new law sets strict limits on fees and requires the waiver of fees where the public entity did not follow the time limits or otherwise violated the law. The law moves the enforcement provisions from the original public records provision, G.L. c. 66, § 10, into a much expanded new section, G.L. c. 66, § 10A. Section 10A sets out in detail the legal standards and procedures for members of the public who have not been given the public records they requested, or only obtained the documents after long delays. Section 10A strengthens the role of the Supervisor of Public Records (who is located in the Secretary of State’s office) and the Attorney General in enforcing the law. It also permits the award of attorney’s fees and punitive damages in certain cases. The amended law also requires the holder of public records to communicate with the requester in writing to explain claims of exemption, the amount of fees or the reason for any delay in providing the documents.

The statute requires each public entity to assign a public records access officer who will keep track of all requests for records and oversee the responses to those requests as well as compile a detailed annual report for the Supervisor of Public Records. The statute states that electronic delivery of documents is preferred where feasible. It allows the public entity to withhold documents where: (1) the request is one of many by the same requester and is designed only to harass and intimidate and has no public purpose (a determination ultimately made by the Supervisor of Public Records) or (2) the requester has failed to pay the fees for prior requested documents. The statute also distinguishes between public records requests made for purposes of informing the public and those made with a commmercial or profit-making reason. While most of the amendments strengthen access to public records, there are also a few additions to the list of exempt documents, including those containing cyber security information and also the personal e-mail addresses of certain public employees.

Specific changes include the following:

  1. New exemption: records relating to cyber security
  2. New exemption: personal e-mail addresses of employees of the judicial branch and unelected employees of the Commonwealth, its agencies or its political subdivisions, or their family members.
  3. Establishes a Public Records Assistance Fund, funded by punitive damages awards and other sources, administered by the office of information technology, to provide grants to municipalities to “foster best practices for increasing access to public records and facilitating compliance” with the law.
  4. Requires the Supervisor of Records to create and distribute forms, guidelines and reference materials to aid the public in getting access to public records.
  5. Requires state agencies and muncipalities to designate a records access officer or officers, who are responsible for assisting the public in obtaining documents.
  6. Establishes that providing the requested documents by electronic means is preferred, unless the record is not available in electronic form or the requester does not have to ability to receive the documents in that form.
  7. Any public records request must reasonably describe the public record sought.
  8. The public entity must respond within 10 business days with either the documents requested or a detailed explanation for the delay or exemption; if there is no response within 10 days, then the public entity cannot charge a fee for the documents.
  9. Limited extensions of time of five additional days for the Commonwealth and 15 additional days for municipalities are permitted. For good cause, the Supervisor of Public Records may grant an additional, one-time-only 20-day extension to the Commonwealth or 30 business days for a municipality. The requester can agree to an extension of any length.
  10. The public entity must provide any non-exempt documents that are within its possession, custody or control.
  11. If a fee is permitted and the public entity requests a reasonable fee, the public entity can refuse to provide the documents until it receives the fee.
  12. In a major change from the earlier fee provisions, the Commonwealth and its agencies cannot charge a fee for the first four hours of work in responding to a request. For muncipalities with a population of 20,000 or more, the free period is two hours. Smaller municipalities may charge for all the time required to process the request. After the applicable free period, the public entity can charge up to $25 an hour for time spent on the request (more if approved by the Supervisor of Public Records after a detailed showing of need). The charge for black and white copies is limited to five cents per page.
  13. Enforcement: Whereas under the prior law, the requester could only ask the Supervisor of Public Records to determine whether the requested record was public, the statute now gives the Supervisor the power to make “a determination whether a violation [of the public records law] has occurred.”
  14. If the Supervisor of Public Records finds a violation of the law, it may notify the Attorney General, who may take any steps to ensure compliance, including filing a civil action.
  15. No matter what steps the Supervisor of Public Records or Attorney General do or do not take, the requester has the right to file a civil action to enforce the law in the Superior Court. The enforcement provision gives the court the power to issue injunctive relief and specifically incorporates the presumption that every record sought is public, which places the burden on the public entity to prove that it has complied with the law.
  16. If the requester files a civil action and subsequently prevails (and prevailing includes obtain the requested documents, even without a court order), there is a presumption in favor of an award of attorney’s fees and costs.
  17. To overcome the presumption of attorney’s fees, the agency or municipality must prove it comes within a specific exemption (i.e., the Supervisor of Public Records found there was no violation of the law; the entity reasonably relied on a published court or attorney general opinion; the intent of the request was to harass or intimidate, or the request was for commercial, not public purposes).
  18. If the Superior Court awards attorney’s fees, then it must order the public entity to waive any fees. If the Superior Court does not award attorney’s fees, it still may order the entity to waive fees.
  19. If the requester obtains a court judgment in his or her favor and has shown that the public entity did not act in good faith, then the court may assess punitive damages against the Commonwealth or municipality of between $1000 and $5000, with the money to be placed in the Public Records Assistance Fund.

Notes for employees and unions:

  1. Because of the fee provisions of the public records law, we advise our public employee union clients to request records that are relevant and necessary to their role as exclusive bargaining agents under G.L. c. 150E, § 6. The obligation to provide such information is an important aspect of a public employer’s obligation to bargain in good faith with its employee unions. If the parties have a past practice of providing documents without charge, then charging a fee for documents requested pursuant to Chapter 150E would be a unilateral change in working conditions and a basis for filing an unfair labor practice charge. A public records request would be necessary when seeking records in the custody of public entities other than the public employer with whom the union has a bargaining relationship.
  2. Personnel records are exempt from disclosure as public records, but an individual employee has a right to see his or her personnel record under G.L. c. 149, § 52C. Employee personnel records and internal investigation records may also be available to unions pursuant to G.L. c. 150E, § 6, although redaction may be required in some cases.
  3. Criminal defendants may have a constitutional right to certain portions of otherwise exempt records, such as personnel files of arresting police officers and internal affairs investigations of those officers, under Commonwealth v. Wanis, 426 Mass. 639 (1998), upon a specific showing that the records are likely to contain exculpatory information.
  4. The exemptions to the Public Records Law only determine what documents public entities are permitted to withhold from public records requesters. It arguably does not prohibit public entities from disclosing exempt documents. Other laws and statutes, including laws creating certain privileges and the law prohibiting invasion of privacy, may be invoked to prevent a public entity from disclosing a document that is not a public record within the meaning of the law.

MassCOP Supports Police Officers Serving in National Guard after Town of Rockport Refuses to Accept Arbitration Award

You may recall my August 8, 2016 blog post announcing an arbitrator’s award that granted back benefits to two full-time Rockport police officers who also serve in the National Guard. The Town had a practice of paying the officers their full salaries when they went to trainings on Cape Cod for several years when the interim police chief – on a complete misreading of the relevant statutes – concluded it was illegal to do this and began deducting their National Guard stipends from their pay. The local police union, supported by the Massachusetts Coalition of Police (MassCOP), fought the Town’s move; MassCOP assigned me (John M. Becker of Sandulli Grace, P.C.) to provide legal services to the officers and their local union.

The arbitrator ruled against the Town and ordered the officers to be paid as before. The decision even received some media attention – Michele McPhee discussed the case on her radio program. For a short time, it seemed as if Rockport was back on the right track.

According to the collective bargaining agreement between the Town and the Union, arbitrators awards are “final and binding”, but less than 30 days after the arbitrator’s award, the Town filed a petition in the state Superior Court asking a judge to overturn the decision because, it argued, the arbitrator had “exceeded his authority” and the award required the Town to violate the law.

Once again, MassCOP authorized Sandulli Grace to represent the local union – this time at the Superior Court. We recently filed a response to the Town’s appeal on behalf of the Rockport police union arguing that the appeal was frivolous and has no legal basis. We asked the Court to not only confirm the award but also require the Town to pay the Union’s legal fees in the frivolous appeal.

In this time of uncertainty and change, when so many misguided people here and abroad seek to solve problems through hatred and violence, we have to rely on the men and women who have chosen to serve in America’s volunteer military more than ever. The police officers in this case are full-time members of the Rockport police force and they have made significant sacrifices to serve in the National Guard. The Town of Rockport’s former practice of not deducting the National Guard stipends from their pay for attending mandatory trainings was the right thing to do. When the Town decided to cut officers’ pay for serving in the military, that was the wrong thing to do. Fortunately, the officers were part of a Union that had a collective bargaining agreement with the Town. That agreement gave them the right to challenge the Town’s change in practice before a neutral third-party arbitrator, who quickly realized that the Town’s position was wrong and no law prevented it from continuing to do the right thing.

It should have ended there. The Town should have accepted the “final and binding” ruling of the arbitrator and moved on. What possessed the Town and its labor counsel (from KP Law, formerly Kopelman & Paige, in Boston) to continue to expend time and money on depriving these hard-working officers of income? Is it simply about saving money? Because the amount they are saving by deducting the National Guard stipends is only a miniscule fraction of the Police Department budget. Is it a case of arrogance – they’re so sure they’re right that they won’t accept anyone telling them otherwise? I don’t have the answers. All I know is that these officers deserve better – their local union knows it, MassCOP knows it, and we at Sandulli Grace know it – and we will continue to fight on their behalf for as long as necessary.

First Amendment Does Not Protect Employee Who Is “Just Doing His Job”

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today reaffirmed that an employee does not have First Amendment protection for statements made as part of his job. New Worcester County Sheriff Louis Evangelidis fired Jude Cristo, who had been the Director of Payroll and Human Resources. Cristo challenged his termination, claiming that he was fired because he complained that employees’ were not doing their jobs because they were engaging in political campaigning during work hours. Cristo claimed that the First Amendment protected his complaints. The Court disagreed.

In granting Evangelidis summary judgment, the Court of Appeals found that Cristo’s speech did not constitute protected expression for First Amendment purposes. The Court of Appeals noted settled Supreme Court precedent that is used to determine when a public employee’s speech is protected. In reviewing speech, the court asks, in part, whether the employee is speaking in their capacity as a citizen regarding a matter of public concern. The Court of Appeals agreed that Cristo was clearly commenting on a matter of public concern because the complaints he made to his supervisor were related to the potential misconduct of sheriff’s office employees. This speech was strongly tied to a matter of public concern because it related to public employee’s campaigning during work hours instead of performing their actual duties and committing other potentially unlawful acts.

However, the Court nonetheless found the speech to be unprotected because Cristo’s comments were made pursuant to his official duties and he was not necessarily commenting as a private citizen. The Court found that Cristo’s complaints were all made in furtherance of fulfilling his duties as the director of payroll and human resources, as his duties included making sure that employees correctly reported their time and included making sure that other employees complied with their human resources responsibilities. Consequently, as Cristo was merely making statements pursuant to his official duties and was not speaking in his capacity as a private citizen, his speech was not entitled to First Amendment protection.

This case is a reminder that while a public employee “does not leave her constitutional rights at the door” when she goes to work, those rights are curtailed when it comes to the operation of her governmental employer.

You can read the decision here.

BOSTON POLICE PATROLMEN’S ASSOCIATION WINS BIG IN APPEALS COURT – SIX TERMINATED POLICE OFFICERS REINSTATED

COURT AFFIRMS CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION FINDING THAT PSYCHEMEDICS’ HAIR DRUG TESTING USES BAD SCIENCE

The Massachusetts Appeals Court issued a decision on October 7, 2016 regarding the civil service appeals of 10 Boston police officers who were terminated solely because their hair tested positive for illegal drugs. All 10 officers in the appeal denied that they had used illegal drugs. In Thompson v. Civil Service Commission, No. 15-P-330 (Mass. App. Ct.), the Appeals Court affirmed the decision of the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission ordering six of the officers to be reinstated. After 18 days of hearing, the Commission ruled on February 28, 2013 that the hair testing protocol used by Psychemedics, Inc. was based on bad science and the Boston Police Department could not rely on a positive drug test alone to terminate a police officer. All 10 officers are members of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association (BPPA), which provided legal and financial support for these appeals. The BPPA represents the 1500 patrol officers of the Boston Police Department in collective bargaining over matters of wages, hours and working conditions.

Based on its initial finding that the hair test result alone was insufficient to terminate an officer for violating the Department’s rule against using illegal drugs, the Commission went on to consider other factors, such as the credibility of the officers’ denials that they used drugs, to determine whether the Department had just cause to terminate. Using this additional information, the Commission found that the Department had just cause to terminate four of the 10 officers. The Commission ordered the remaining six officers reinstated, but without full back pay. Representing the officers at the Commission at the request of the BPPA were attorneys Alan Shapiro and Jennifer Rubin, both partners at Sandulli Grace, P.C.

The City of Boston and Boston Police Department appealed the Commission’s decision on the six reinstatements to the Superior Court. The four terminated officers also appealed, and the six reinstated officers appealed the portion of the decision denying them full back pay. The Superior Court issued a decision on October 6, 2014 affirming the Commission’s decision in large part, but agreeing with the six reinstated officers that they were entitled to full back pay.

In the next round, the City and Department appealed to the Appeals Court on the issue of the six reinstatements, and the four terminated officers also appealed. The Appeals Court’s October 7, 2016 decision affirmed the Commission’s decision, but adopted the Superior Court’s ruling that the six reinstated officers were entitled to full back pay. Sandulli Grace attorneys Alan Shapiro and John M. Becker, at the request of the BPPA, represented the 10 officers in the appellate proceedings.

Either or both parties may file a petition for further appellate review to the Supreme Judicial Court within 14 days. Unlike the Appeals Court, which must review all the appeals filed with it, the SJC may select which cases to review. In practice, the SJC rejects approximately 9 out of every 10 applications for further appellate review it receives in civil cases.

The implications of this case are significant for any Union or Employer where hair testing, particularly hair testing by Psychemedics, is conducted. The Civil Service Commission was unequivocal in its conclusion that there are too many unanswered questions and questionable scientific assumptions in Psychemedics’ current hair testing protocol to allow an employer to fire an employee covered by just cause (either in a collective bargaining agreement or statute) on the basis of a hair test result alone.

Masscop Members In Rockport Win Back National Guard Pay Benefit – Arbitrator Rejects Town’s Argument That Payments Are Unlawful.

Arbitrator Richard Boulanger handed a significant victory to Local 154 (Rockport) of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, AFL-CIO (“Union”) on August 3, 2016 when he sustained a grievance over pay cuts by the Town of Rockport (“Town”) for officers attending National Guard training. In doing so, Arbitrator Boulanger rejected the Town’s argument that it could not legally pay officers their full pay during National Guard training.

Two Rockport police officers who served in the National Guard and had been receiving full pay while attending mandatory military training were informed in January 2015 that the Town would now be deducting their National Guard military allowances from their pay, because, the Town claimed, to do otherwise would be illegal. The Union filed a grievance over the pay cut, which proceeded to a hearing before Arbitrator Boulanger. The Massachusetts Coalition of Police provided legal support by assigning Attorney John M. Becker, of Sandulli Grace, P.C., to represent Local 154 and the two grievants.

In his decision [which may be found HERE], Arbitrator Boulanger recognized that the Town had established a past practice of paying employees who were members of the National Guard their full pay while on leave attending mandatory training, without deducting the military allowance the employees received. The practice was encompassed by the strong maintenance of benefits provision in the collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) between the Town and the Union, which protects any job benefit that (1) existed in the past and (2) has not been contractually modified, even if it is not mentioned in the CBA.

Boulanger rejected the Town’s argument that paying officers without deducting military allowances violated the law. Boulanger reviewed four statutes relating to military pay. First, the federal military leave law, USERRA, does not contain any provisions regarding pay during National Guard training, and so was irrelevant. Of three state statutes with some relevancy, none actually applied to this case, Arbitrator Boulanger concluded. G.L. c. 149, § 52a, which had previously provided for 17 days of military training leave to members of the reserves, which could be “paid or unpaid at the Town’s discretion”, was repealed in 2014 and was no longer good law. Chapter 137 of the Acts of 2003, a local option law that the Town had adopted, allows for paying regular base salary without loss of leave or seniority, but minus any military pay or allowance, for officers in “active service.” But as Arbitrator Boulanger pointed out, the statute is inapplicable because the officers in this case were not in “active service” and National Guard training is specifically excluded from the scope of the law. The Town had not adopted G.L. c. 33, § 59, a local option law, but Arbitrator Boulanger found that statute to be the most relevant. If adopted, the law (as amended in 2014) requires municipalities to give employees in the armed forces full pay without deducting for military stipends or pay during training, for up to 34 days in a state fiscal year or 17 days in a federal fiscal year, without loss of seniority or accrued leave. Boulanger pointed out that, although the Town had not adopted G.L. c. 33, § 59, it had adopted Chapter 137 of the Acts of 2003, which provides that it “shall not limit or reduce a person’s entitlement to benefits under [G.L. c. 33, § 59].”

Ultimately, Arbitrator Boulanger concluded that, while no statute specifically authorized the Town to pay full pay to employees during National Guard training, no statute prohibited the payments either, so the past practice of the Town – which was fully consistent with the local option law, G.L. c. 33, § 59 – was lawful and enforceable. For these reasons, the Arbitrator sustained the grievance and ordered the Town of Rockport to pay the police officers full pay during military training without deducting military allowances going forward and pay the officer back pay to make them whole from the time their pay was cut in January 2015.