City of New Britain v. AFSCME, Council, Local 1186
It is well established that, absent the parties' contrary intent, it is the court that has the primary authority to determine whether a particular dispute is arbitrable, not the arbitrators. The plaintiff, the city of New Britain, and the defendant, AFSCME, Council 4, Local 1186, negotiated pay increases for certain city employees. Foreman did not receive the upgrades but the subordinate employees whom they supervise did. The parties' memorandum of understanding provided, relevantly, that "[t]he parties agree that arbitration shall NOT be used to redress all upgrades that have not been resolved in the negotiations." The foremen filed an unfair labor practice complaint alleging a violation of the city's civil service commission rules. The defendant, representing the foremen, entered into a settlement agreement with the plaintiff providing "that [the defendant] may file a grievance regarding the issue of [f]oremen being paid less than 5 [percent] more than their subordinates. This grievance shall be filed directly to arbitration." The parties agreed that "either party may raise any claim or defense . . . including the issue of arbitrability" but not timeliness, and the defendant would withdraw the unfair labor practice action. The State Board of Mediation and Arbitration determined that the matter was arbitrable, despite the plaintiff's claims to the contrary, and found for the defendant. The trial court denied the plaintiff's application to vacate the award, finding that it lacked power to overturn the decision. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The majority of the Supreme Court reversed the judgment. The parties did not clearly and unmistakably indicate in any of the relevant documents, the collective bargaining agreement, memorandum of understanding and settlement agreement, an intention to waive judicial review of the question of arbitrability. The trial court had the primary authority to determine whether the foremen's pay differential dispute was arbitrable. The plaintiff preserved one of its claims that it never agreed to arbitrate and did not waive it and, thus, was entitled to de novo judicial review of that claim. By its plain language, the majority concluded, the settlement agreement preserved the plaintiff's right to assert its defense of nonarbitrability. Because the plaintiff did not agree to arbitrate, it could not be compelled to submit to arbitration. The matter was remanded with direction. Justice Harper dissented joined by Justice Palmer.