Justia Arbitration & Mediation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law
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In 2017, an arbitrator found that Western Illinois University violated its collective bargaining agreement with respect to layoffs. In 2018, the arbitrator entered a supplemental award, finding that the University failed to comply with the earlier award. The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board then found that the University committed an unfair labor practice in violation of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act, 115 ILCS 5/14(a)(1), (8), by failing to comply with the two arbitration awards. The Act requires that public education employers arbitrate disputes arising under a collective bargaining agreement. Refusal to comply with the provisions of a binding arbitration award is an “unfair labor practice” under the Act. The appellate court vacated the Board’s decision.The Illinois Supreme Court agreed. An arbitrator in the public educational labor relations context exceeds his authority by reviewing a party’s compliance with his own award in contravention of the Act, which vests exclusive primary jurisdiction over arbitration awards with the Board. The Board may not limit the evidence it will consider in an unfair labor practice proceeding under the Act to the evidence before the arbitrator. Under the Act, arbitrators retain limited jurisdiction of the awards for the sole purpose of resolving remedial issues that may arise from the award itself. View "Western Illinois University v. Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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MHS, a private, non-denominational school, hired the Darringtons as full-time houseparents for student housing. The Union represents full-time MHS houseparents. The collective bargaining agreement arbitration provision covers “any dispute arising out of [its] terms and conditions,” including the “discipline or discharge” of Union members. A grievance includes “any dispute alleging discrimination against any [Union members].” The Union, on behalf of itself and any allegedly aggrieved Union members, waived any right to a private lawsuit alleging employment discrimination regarding matters encompassed within the grievance procedure. If aggrieved Union members are unsatisfied with the resolution of their disputes after discussions with MHS officials, “the Union [may seek] further consideration” by submitting the grievance to arbitration on their behalf.The Darringtons filed unsuccessful reports with the local state agency for children and youth services, concerning MHS's mandatory religious programming. They then filed charges of discrimination with the EEOC and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission alleging discrimination based on religion. Two months later, MHS fired the Darringtons, who filed additional charges. After receiving right-to-sue letters, the Darringtons filed a complaint, alleging discrimination and retaliation, Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. The district court denied MHS’s motion to compel arbitration. The Third Circuit reversed. The CBA clearly and unmistakably waives a judicial forum for the statutory discrimination claims. View "Darrington v. Milton Hershey School" on Justia Law

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The Washington South Education Association was the representative of all licensed teachers within the Northfield schools. The Northfield School Board and the Association negotiated and entered into the CBA, which was in effect from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018. Paul Clayton was a middle-school physical-education teacher at the Northfield Middle High School (the School) and was a member of the Association. Therefore, Clayton’s employment was subject to the CBA. In late fall 2017, administrators at the School received complaints about Clayton’s workplace conduct. The complaints alleged that Clayton created a hostile work environment by intimidating his colleagues and advised a student (his daughter) to punch another student in the face. In response to the allegations, Clayton was placed on paid leave while the administrators investigated the complaints and interviewed a number of the School’s staff. Upon the conclusion of their investigation, the administrators wrote a letter to the School’s superintendent describing their findings and noting that while they gave Clayton the opportunity to respond, Clayton declined to respond in a follow-up meeting and then a second meeting scheduled to receive his rebuttal a few days later. After receiving the administrators’ letter, the superintendent wrote a letter to Clayton offering him an opportunity to meet with her to discuss the matter, and attached to the letter a summary of the allegations against Clayton. About a week later, the superintendent met with Clayton and his Association representation. Clayton did not file a notice of appeal of his ultimate suspension. Shortly thereafter, Clayton and the Association, now represented by the Vermont affiliate of the National Education Association (Vermont-NEA), submitted a grievance alleging a violation the CBA. The Board declined to accept the grievance, noting Clayton did not follow the prescribed termination procedures outlined in the CBA. Vermont-NEA thereafter invoked the CBA's arbitration procedures. A trial court agreed with the Board, and Clayton and the Association appealed. The Vermont Supreme Court determined Clayton and the Association failed to exhaust statutory remedies as required by 16 V.S.A. 1752, thus the trial court properly enjoined arbitration. View "Northfield School Board v. Washington South Education Association" on Justia Law

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Defendant Glenn Ciripompa was a tenured high school math teacher in the Bound Brook School District. Defendant's behavior came under the scrutiny of the Bound Brook Board of Education (Board) after the Board received copies of student Twitter posts alleging "Mr. C" was electronically transmitting nude photographs. An investigation uncovered defendant's pervasive misuse of his District-issued laptop and iPad, as well as evidence of inappropriate behavior toward female colleagues, often in the presence of students. The results of the investigation spurred the Board to seek defendant's termination from his tenured position and served as the substantive allegations of the two-count tenure complaint against defendant. In this appeal, the issue presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether an arbitrator exceeded his authority by applying the standard for proving a hostile-work-environment, sexual-harassment claim in a law against discrimination (LAD) case to a claim of unbecoming conduct in the teacher disciplinary hearing. After review, the Supreme Court found that the arbitrator impermissibly converted the second charge of unbecoming conduct into one of sexual harassment. The arbitrator's review was not consonant with the matter submitted; rather, he imperfectly executed his powers as well as exceeded his authority by failing to decide whether Count II stated a successful claim of unbecoming conduct in support of termination. The arbitrator's award was therefore ruled invalid. View "Bound Brook Bd. of Edu. v. Ciripompa" on Justia Law

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The College Network, Inc. (TCN) appealed an order denying its motion to compel arbitration of a consumer fraud and breach of contract action brought by Plaintiffs Bernadette Magno, Rosanna Garcia, and Sheree Rudio. TCN argued the arbitration provision in Plaintiffs' purchase agreements was valid and enforceable and contended the trial court erred when it ruled the provision unconscionable. Alternatively, TCN argued that if the forum selection clause was unconscionable, the court abused its discretion in voiding the arbitration provision altogether rather than severing the objectionable provisions and enforcing the remainder. After review of the provision at issue, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court correctly determined the arbitration provision to be procedurally and substantively unconscionable and did not abuse its discretion in voiding it in its entirety. View "Magno v. The College Network, Inc." on Justia Law

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In May 2013, plaintiffs Annemarie Morgan and Tiffany Dever filed suit against defendants Sanford Brown Institute, its parent company, Career Education Corporation, and Sanford Brown's chief executive officer, admission and financial aid officers, and clinical director. Sanford Brown was a private, for-profit educational institution with a campus in Trevose, Pennsylvania, that offered medical-related training programs. In the complaint, plaintiffs claimed that defendants misrepresented the value of the school's ultrasound technician program and the quality of its instructors, instructed students on outdated equipment and with inadequate teaching materials, provided insufficient career-service counseling, and conveyed inaccurate information about Sanford Brown's accreditation status. The complaint further alleged that Sanford Brown employed high-pressure and deceptive business tactics that resulted in plaintiffs financing their education with high-interest loans, passing up the study of ultrasound at a reputable college, and losing career advancement opportunities. The Sanford Brown enrollment agreement included payment terms for tuition and fees, disclaimers, and an arbitration provision. Without answering the complaint, defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration and to dismiss plaintiffs' claims. The Appellate Division found the parties clearly and unmistakably agreed an arbitrator would determine issues of arbitrability and that plaintiffs failed to specifically attack the delegation clause. The panel therefore determined that arbitrability [was] for the arbitrator to decide. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the Appellate Division and trial court did not have the benefit of "Atalese v. U.S. Legal Servs. Grp.," (219 N.J. 430, 436 (2014), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 135 S. Ct. 2804, 192 L. Ed.2d 847 (2015)) at the time they rendered their decisions. The New Jersey Court held in "Atalese" that an arbitration provision in a consumer contract that fails to explain in some minimal way that arbitration is a substitute for a consumer s right to pursue relief in a court of law was unenforceable. This case was therefore remanded for further proceedings in light of Atalese. View "Morgan v. Sanford Brown Institute" on Justia Law

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A district elementary school principal interpreted an educational policy to mean that elementary school teachers were expected to be present in their classrooms ten minutes before the start of the instructional day. The Coastal Education Association, an affiliate of a union representing teachers, filed a grievance with Regional School District Unit No. 5 (RSU No. 5) challenging the principal’s interpretation as a violation of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the Association and the Board of Directors of RSU No. 5. An arbitrator concluded that the principal’s directive violated the CBA and directed RSU No. 5 to rescind the educational policy. RSU No. 5 filed an application to vacate the arbitration award. The superior court granted the application, concluding that the dispute was not substantively arbitrable pursuant to the Municipal Public Employees Labor Relations Law, which prevents school boards from bargaining on matters of educational policy or submitting educational policy disputes to interest arbitration. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in concluding that the educational policy at issue in this case was, as a matter of law, not substantively arbitrable. View "Reg’l Sch. Unit No. 5 v. Coastal Educ. Ass’n" on Justia Law

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A district elementary school principal interpreted an educational policy to mean that elementary school teachers were expected to be present in their classrooms ten minutes before the start of the instructional day. The Coastal Education Association, an affiliate of a union representing teachers, filed a grievance with Regional School District Unit No. 5 (RSU No. 5) challenging the principal’s interpretation as a violation of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the Association and the Board of Directors of RSU No. 5. An arbitrator concluded that the principal’s directive violated the CBA and directed RSU No. 5 to rescind the educational policy. RSU No. 5 filed an application to vacate the arbitration award. The superior court granted the application, concluding that the dispute was not substantively arbitrable pursuant to the Municipal Public Employees Labor Relations Law, which prevents school boards from bargaining on matters of educational policy or submitting educational policy disputes to interest arbitration. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in concluding that the educational policy at issue in this case was, as a matter of law, not substantively arbitrable. View "Reg’l Sch. Unit No. 5 v. Coastal Educ. Ass’n" on Justia Law

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The parties in this case - a board of education and an education association - proceeded to arbitration on a dispute. The parties proceeded on a three member arbitration panel. When a journalist with a newspaper sought to cover the arbitration proceedings, the panel adjourned to what it designated an executive session, closed to the public. The journalist and newspaper (together, Defendants) filed a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission, claiming that the panel violated the open meetings provision of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Commission ordered the members of the arbitration panel and the Department to create a transcript of the hearing and provide that transcript to Defendants, concluding that the arbitration panel was a committee of the Department of Education and that the evidentiary portion of the arbitration proceeding under the Teacher Negotiation Act (TNA) was subject to the open meetings provision of the FOIA. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because a TNA arbitration panel is not a “committee of” the Department, it does not constitute a “public agency.” View "Gould v. Freedom of Info. Comm’n" on Justia Law

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The Lexington school district superintendent dismissed Mark Zagaeski, a Lexington high school teacher, from his position for conduct unbecoming a teacher. Zagaeski timely filed an appeal from the school district’s dismissal decision, which resulted in arbitration proceedings. The arbitrator (1) concluded that the school district carried its burden to show facts amounting to conduct unbecoming a teacher but that Zagaeski’s conduct only “nominally” constituted a basis for dismissal; and (2) reinstated Zagaeski as a teacher on the basis of “the best interests of the pupils.” The superior court confirmed the arbitrator’s award. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the decision of the superior court judge and vacated the arbitration award, holding that, under the facts of this case, the arbitrator exceeded the scope of his authority by awarding Zagaeski's reinstatement. View "Sch. Comm. of Lexington v. Zagaeski" on Justia Law