NEW MILFORD BOARD OF EDUCATION v. NEW MILFORD EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, SC 20140
Judicial District of Litchfield
Arbitration; Education; Labor; Whether Grievance of Teachers’ Union under Collective Bargaining Agreement was Arbitrable or Subject to Resolution under Teacher Negotiation Act; Whether Arbitration of Grievance was Precluded by Collateral Estoppel or Res Judicata. The plaintiff board of education and the defendant teachers’ union are parties to a collective bargaining agreement. In the fall of 2014, while the parties were negotiating a new agreement, the plaintiff gave notice to the defendant that, starting in the 2015-2016 school year, it would eliminate abbreviated school days during which teachers did non-teaching work and that such non-teaching work would be done outside of school hours. The agreement in effect provided that the parties would negotiate the impact of any alteration that the plaintiff made to the teacher work day under the Teacher Negotiation Act (TNA), which governs collective bargaining between local boards of education and teachers. The parties accordingly engaged in impact negotiations with respect to the agreement provisions pertaining to the plaintiff’s proposed elimination of abbreviated school days. Because the negotiations ended in an impasse, the parties entered into last best offer interest arbitration under the TNA and submitted proposed contract language regarding the disputed issues to a tripartite panel. The panel accepted the plaintiff’s last best offers, which in relevant part proposed no new language as to the teacher work day. After the tripartite panel issued its arbitration award and the successor agreement went into effect, the plaintiff implemented a calendar for the 2015-2016 school year that eliminated several abbreviated school days and required teachers to perform the non-teaching work previously performed on those days outside of school hours. The defendant then filed and sought to arbitrate a grievance alleging that the elimination of the abbreviated school days violated the agreement provisions governing the length of the teacher work day. The grievance arbitrator found in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff filed an application to vacate the grievance arbitration award, and the defendant filed a cross application to confirm the award. The trial court granted the defendant’s application and denied the plaintiff’s application, rejecting the plaintiff’s position that the arbitrator failed to give preclusive effect to the tripartite panel’s award and that the agreement did not allow for arbitration of the defendant’s grievance. The plaintiff appeals from the trial court’s judgment in favor of the defendant. The Supreme Court will decide whether the trial court properly determined that the defendant’s grievance was arbitrable where the plaintiff argues that, under the agreement, it had the unilateral authority to alter the teacher work day and that any resulting disputes would be resolved through impact negotiation and, if necessary, last best offer interest arbitration under the TNA. The Supreme Court will also decide whether the trial court properly declined to apply the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata in confirming the arbitration award.