STATE OF CONNECTICUT v. CONN. STATE UNIVERSITY ORGANIZATION OF ADMINISTRATIVE FACULTY, AFSCME, CO.4, LOCAL 2836, AFL-CIO, SC 20628

Judicial District of Hartford

 

      Arbitration; Whether Trial Court Erred in Finding Arbitration Award Violated Public Policy; Whether Trial Court Improperly Substituted Its Findings of Facts for That of Arbitrator.  This matter arises from the termination of Christopher Dukes (Dukes), Director of Student Conduct for Central Connecticut State University (CCSU), following a domestic disturbance incident.  On the evening of April 24, 2018, the police responded to a 911 call from Dukes' wife claiming that he had threatened to kill her and himself.  She further explained that she was concerned for the safety of her children who were still in the house with Dukes.  A standoff ensued between Dukes and the police for several hours.  During the standoff, Dukes disclosed that he had a gun and told the police not to breach his house.  Dukes eventually surrendered and was taken into custody.  The plaintiff, State of Connecticut (State) and the defendant, Connecticut State University Organization of Administrative Faculty, AFSCME, Council 4, Local 2836, AFL-CIO (Union), are parties to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that provides for arbitration of grievances.  Following this incident, CCSU sent Dukes a termination letter that stated, in pertinent part, "[y]our dismissal is for off-duty behavior on the night and early morning of April 24-25, 2018, which . . . created a hazardous situation, placing your spouse, children, police personnel, and yourself at risk for grave harm.  The seriousness of the misconduct renders you unsuitable to discharge your professional responsibilities . . . and forms the just cause basis for your termination."  The Union filed a grievance challenging Dukes' termination, claiming that the charges presented by CCSU lacked sufficient specificity and that CCSU had failed to prove just cause for the termination.  The arbitrator found in favor of Dukes on the claim that CCSU had failed to prove just cause for the termination.  As a result, the State was direct to restore Dukes to his former position, purge the discipline record from his personnel file and make him whole for the loss of pay and benefits that resulted from his termination.  The State thereafter filed an application to vacate the arbitration award on the basis that the award violates public policy.  The Union filed an application to confirm the award, asserting that the award was within the rights and powers agreed to by the parties in the CBA.  The trial court found that the arbitration award violated well-defined and dominant public policies concerning the protection of children, preserving the peace, preventing interference with police personnel in the performance of their duties and endangering police officers and vacated the award. The Union filed this appeal in the Appellate Court, and the Supreme Court thereafter transferred the appeal to itself.  On appeal, the Union claims that the trial court's decision extends the public policy exception to the rule of deference to an arbitrator's decision so far that it eliminates the very purpose of the rule.  The Union further claims that the trial court substituted its own factual findings for those of the arbitrator.  The Union also claims that there was no clear public policy implicated in this matter.  Lastly, the Union claims that, even if there were dominant public policies implicated in this matter, the award does not violate any of those policies.