Agency ‘jumps the gun’ on employee’s firing

July 6, 2015

Brian 7.6 prisonWhere the parties’ collective bargaining agreement required “just cause” for an employee’s discipline and/or discharge, the agency’s failure to comply with a vital procedural step was fatal to its termination of an officer for purported serious misconduct.

A lieutenant with eight years of service was discharged for allegedly participating in a “use of force” incident at a Florida correctional institution that resulted in an inmate’s death.

His union claimed the state Department of Corrections made a “knee-jerk” decision that seriously interfered with the lieutenant’s rights.  The union also said the agency denied due process by failing to provide it with all statements made in the record, purportedly because they were unavailable or exempt from disclosure.

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The state admitted it terminated the grievant before completing the investigation.

But averring that it took seriously the rules governing the “care, custody and control” of inmates, the agency maintained that retaining the corrections officers involved in the incident —including the grievant — “would be detrimental to the best interest of the State and the Department of Corrections.”

As a lieutenant, the grievant “was held to a higher degree of integrity and respect,” the agency said.

The state said the lieutenant would be reinstated if exonerated after a full investigation.  But if not exonerated, his termination would stand.

The arbitrator, in upholding the grievance, emphasized that completion of a fair investigation was part of an employee’s due process rights under the labor agreement’s “just cause” standard, which was based on the concept of fair treatment.

While recognizing that situations could arise in a workplace such as a state prison that required an employee’s removal from the premises pending completion of an investigation, the arbitrator found nothing in the record prevented the Department of Corrections from exercising that option rather than “jumping the gun” and summarily discharging the grievant.

Accordingly, the agency was directed to reinstate the grievant and make him whole for all losses.

State of Florida, Department of Corrections and IBT, Local 2011, 43 LAIS 179, 2015 WL 2174403 (Mar. 2, 2015)