Superior Court Upholds Arbitrator’s Decision Overturning Suspension of Police Officer
In a case brought by the Waltham Police Union, Local 161, Massachusetts Coalition of Police, and argued by Sandulli Grace Attorney Bryan Decker, Middlesex Superior Court judge S. Jane Haggerty has upheld the decision of an arbitrator overturning the suspension of a Waltham Police Officer. (Read the full decision HERE). In a November 2012 decision Arbitrator Michael Stutz converted Waltham Police Officer Paul Tracey’s 15 day suspension to a written reprimand, and ordered the Waltham Police Department to pay Officer Tracey for lost detail and overtime opportunities (based on earnings from the prior year). Officer Tracey was placed on administrative leave while the City investigated the allegation that he had assisted a Mayoral Candidate and City Council President in intimidating one of the politician’s tenants. The allegation was advanced by a witness who was not even believed by the City’s hired hearing officer. As a result, the Arbitrator concluded that Officer Tracey had not committed misconduct, overturned the suspension and also ordered that Officer Tracey should be compensated for having been inappropriately kept on administrative leave.
Rather than comply with the contractually “final and binding” decision of the arbitrator, the City instead appealed the decision to superior court. Following briefing and a hearing, Judge Haggerty rejected this attempt, and ordered the Award upheld. Judge Haggerty’s decision is an exemplification of the deference that courts are to pay to the decisions of arbitrators. Judge Haggerty first points out that “the court is confined to accept the factual findings of the Arbitrator.” Given that the Arbitrator had found that Officer Tracey did not violate the complainant’s rights, the Judge rejected the City’s claims that the decision violated public policy:
Here, the Arbitrator found that Tracy did not engage in any type of conduct that could potentially corrode the public trust, as he did not find Gonzalez’s complaint against Tracy credible. Given that the court must accept this factual finding, the Arbitrator’s award did not require the Chief or the City to break the law.
The City also complained that the Arbitrator had infringed on the Waltham Police Chief’s “inherent authority” when he ordered that Officer Tracey be compensated for having been improperly kept on administrative leave. Again, the Judge rejected the claim, finding that the arbitrator’s decision was proper:
Here, the Arbitrator’s decision did not infringe on the Chief’s authority. The Arbitrator never ordered the Chief to remove Tracey from administrative leave… The Arbitrator found that Tracy did not commit any serious misconduct. Thus, the Arbitrator used the overtime pay award to sanction the Chief for extending the administrative leave after September 1, 2011 because the Arbitrator found that this extension was without any basis.
In this case, the City of Waltham spent almost a year investigating the claims of a patently unbelievable “victim” in an effort to discredit a long serving police office. The City then imposed a lengthy suspension, which was properly overturned by a respected Arbitrator. Rather than accept this factually based decision, the City then appealed, citing a myriad of far-fetched claims in an “everything and the kitchen sink” attempt to overturn the decision. Fortunately, Superior Court Judge Haggerty faithfully applied the proper standard in reviewing the award. She considered each and every argument advanced by the City, and she then concluded:
The award is logically based on the facts as found by the Arbitrator. Given the broad discretion afforded arbitrators, there is simply no basis for this court to vacate the Arbitrator’s award.