AFSCME, Council 4, Local 2663 v. Department of Children and Families
As explained in the 2010 Appellate Court case of Teamsters Local Union No. 677 v. Board of Education, "as long as the arbitrator is even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of authority, the award must be enforced." The arbitrator found the following facts. On May 12, 2008, the Department of Children and Families placed a seven month old baby in the care of Suzanne Listro, a department social worker for 12 years, who sought to adopt another child. On May 19, 2008, Listro turned away while changing the baby on the bed, heard a thud and saw the baby on the floor and her three year old son on the bed. The baby became unresponsive and was pronounced dead at the hospital. An autopsy report concluded that the baby died from shaken baby syndrome. Listro was found not guilty of manslaughter and risk of injury to a child. The department substantiated a charge of abuse and neglect. Following a hearing under the 1985 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill, the department issued a letter terminating Listro's employment. Listro's union, AFSCME, Council 4, Local 2663, filed a grievance. An arbitrator denied the grievance, finding just cause for Listro's termination. The trial court vacated the award, finding that the arbitrator exceeded her authority in using negligence as a standard and basis for the award when the charge of negligence was never made by the department at the hearing or in the letter. The department appealed. The Appellate Court reversed the judgment finding that the court exceeded its authority in vacating the award. The submission to the arbitrator was unrestricted. Negligence arguably came within the parties' collective bargaining agreement. The agreement required the department to identify the evidence on which it relied. Negligence is a legal theory, not evidence of conduct. The hearing and termination letter were not required to identify negligence as the reason for the dismissal. The letter identified the conduct on which the department rested its decision but did not put a label on it. The arbitrator was not precluded from finding that Listro was negligent. The court exceeded the standards of review applicable to arbitration awards by finding to the contrary.