City of Hartford v. Hartford Municipal Employees Association
The trial court was obligated to consider the factual findings made by the arbitrators when it decided whether the arbitral award violated public policy. Vilma Rivera-Saez was a supervisory employee in the Hartford tax collector's office when a series of cash shortages occurred. An investigation discovered a scheme whereby unrecorded checks were substituted for cash in four daily deposits. Related discrepancies appeared in reconciliation records. Rivera-Saez's subordinate had prepared the reconciliation records with her assistance on three of the four occasions when the discrepancies occurred. Additionally, she had instructed him occasionally to leave his cashier's box unlocked over his lunch break. The city terminated Rivera-Saez's employment. The Hartford Municipal Employees Association filed a grievance on her behalf which was submitted to arbitration. The arbitration panel majority concluded that the termination was without just cause and Rivera-Saez should be reinstated without back pay and benefits. One panel member dissented concluding that reinstatement was contrary to public policy. The city applied to the trial court to vacate the award. The court vacated the award finding that reinstatement was against public policy. The defendant union appealed claiming that the court improperly vacated the award because the plaintiff city failed to demonstrate the existence of any explicit, well defined and dominant public policy that would be violated by an award reinstating Rivera-Saez to her position. The Appellate Court reversed the judgment. The plaintiff did not identify a definite source for the public policy that it claimed was violated by the award. Even assuming that the plaintiff successfully demonstrated that a well-defined public policy was implicated the plaintiff failed to demonstrate how the award would clearly violate that public policy. In reaching that determination, the Appellate Court relied on the facts found by the arbitration panel. The trial court, in determining that the award would violate public policy, concluded that Rivera-Saez "had played a pivotal role in the theft of public funds," and that it was not bound by the panel majority's finding that no evidence showed that Rivera-Saez was a thief. The trial court agreed with the dissenting member and improperly substituted its factual findings for those of the arbitrators. The court was obligated to consider the factual findings made by the arbitrators when deciding whether the award violated public policy.