Arbitrator Nancy Peace recently issued an arbitration award reversing disciplinary action issued to a Concord police sergeant. In the award, Arbitrator Peace found that the sergeant – who had a spotless 20 year record with the Concord Police Department – did not commit the offense he was accused of. The case includes some important language regarding the nature of insubordination, an offense that often leads to employee discipline. The Union was represented by Sandulli Grace attorney John M. Becker
The case involves the police department’s planning for a large public event in Concord. Sgt. Joseph Connell was not involved in the planning, but two other sergeants were. Sgt. Connell and his Union – the Concord Police Association, Local 260 of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police – understood these sergeants to be acting on a voluntary basis. At one point, the Police Chief asked Sgt. Connell to help with the planning on a voluntary basis. Sgt. Connell provided some assistance, but eventually e-mailed the Chief stating that there was nothing more to do. The Chief e-mailed back, “I want you to handle the scheduling for us.” Sgt. Connell responded (also by e-mail) that he did not want to volunteer to work on the planning, and he expressed concerns that the process had begun so late. The next thing Sgt. Connell knew, he was brought in to the Chief’s office and issued a written reprimand for insubordination. He was also reassigned from his midnight shift to the day shift where he would allegedly undergo training for an undetermined period. As it turned out, he was reassigned for seven weeks and received very little training. Interestingly, Sgt. Connell was required to take part in the event planning during his reassignment.
Sgt. Connell and the Union grieved the discipline and the reassignment and the grievance proceeded to arbitration before Arbitrator Nancy Peace. After hearing testimony from Sgt. Connell, Union President Chuck DiRienzo, the Police Chief and others, the Arbitrator ruled in the Union’s favor. According to the Arbitrator, insubordination must be determined by looking at the understanding of the person receiving the alleged order. Here, while the Chief may have believed he was giving an order, Sgt. Connell, based on all the facts, believed he was being asked to volunteer. The Arbitrator reasoned, “It is the responsibility of a superior officer to insure that his or her orders are clear and have been received. Where there is any indication that there may be some confusion or misunderstanding, as there certainly was here, it is the responsibility of the superior officer to investigate and clarify.” The Arbitrator concluded, “This grievance and arbitration could have been avoided had Chief Neal responded to Sgt. Connell’s August 25, 7:59 a.m. e-mail by clarifying that he was not asking Connell to volunteer to handle the scheduling; he was ordering or directing him to do so.”
Arbitrator Peace found that the Town violated the just cause provision of the collective bargaining agreement between the Town and the Union by issuing the discipline and reassigning Sgt. Connell to the day shift. She ordered the discipline removed from Sgt. Connell’s record and ordered him compensated for financial losses as the result of the reassignment.
Read the decision…