Plymouth Superior Court Judge Uphold’s MTA Local Union’s Arbitration Victory

A judge of the Plymouth Superior Court has upheld an arbitration award in a matter involving the Marshfield Education Association, MTA/NEA, and the Marshfield School Committee, which ordered the School Committee to reinstate a teacher who had been terminated for lacking a proper license. (A copy of the decision is here.) The case was briefed and argued at Superior Court by John M. Becker, an attorney with Sandulli Grace, P.C.

The case involves special education teacher Gerard O’Sullivan, who struggled for several years to obtain the proper approvals that would allow him to obtain licensure. At the final stages, he was thwarted by school administration officials, whose misunderstanding of the requirements caused delays that ultimately caused him his job. Most frustrating was the School Department’s insistence that classroom experience could not count for any of the credits required for the license, a stance that was directly contradicted by the state’s regulations. Once Mr. O’Sullivan realized he was not going to have his license in time for the new school year, and the School Department’s attempt to obtain a waiver had failed, he asked for a leave of absence so he could get his license, but even that request was denied, and he lost his job.

The arbitrator saw through the Department’s failures and determined that Mr. O’Sullivan should not have been fired, that he should be reinstated and granted the one-year leave of absence to obtain his license. (The arbitrator pointed out that the School Department had actually employed Mr. Sullivan without a license for a full year when a waiver request had been delayed, so it rejected the idea that he was ‘automatically’ fired once his waiver expired.)

Despite the courts’ deference to labor arbitrators, the School Committee challenged the arbitration award in court, alleging that it forced the School Committee to violate state law and public policy by requiring it to employ a teacher without a license. In a 17-page decision issued on September 18, 2012, Judge Robert C. Cosgrove ruled in the Union’s favor on all the School Committee’s arguments. He found that by reinstating Mr. O’Sullivan to a non-teaching, leave of absence position, the arbitrator was not violating any law requiring teachers to be licensed. He also found that, even though there is a public policy requiring teachers to be licensed, this arbitration award did not violate the policy because it was designed to help the teacher obtain his license without requiring him to teach any students while unlicensed.

The School Committee filed a notice of appeal of the Superior Court’s decision last week, so the matter is not over yet. As usual, employers seem to have a problem with the concept of “final and binding” arbitration. Stay tuned to this site for further developments.

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