City of Hartford and Hartford Municipal Employees Association Inc.
Arbitrators can find that an employer lacks just cause to discharge, because the employer's rules are confusing or contradictory. In December 2011, Kim Walton, a dispatcher, discovered that her brother had been arrested and she allegedly used a co-worker's computer to search for warrants. Walton did not find any arrest warrants. Walton's co-worker discovered that Walton had used her computer without permission and complained. The department head investigated and concluded that Walton had accessed the department computer for personal reasons. The city found that if Walton had any questions, she should have consulted a supervisor. Walton was discharged. The union filed a grievance and claimed that Walton used the computer for legitimate law enforcement purposes, to make certain that there was no mistake about whether an arrest warrant had been issued. Arbitrators agreed with the union that Walton used a co-worker's computer to search the computer database because she was concerned that there was a mistake. Arbitrators credited Walton's testimony that she had not previously used the computer database to search for information about relatives, friends and neighbors. The department's rules about computer use were confusing and contradictory. Discharge was overly harsh for an employee of 16 years. Arbitrators reinstated Walton with full back pay, benefits and seniority. Catharine Freeman represented the city, and Stephen McEleney represented the union.