Appellate Court Allows Arbitration for Police Grievance

Author: Jacob D. Caudill

March 17, 2016

Recently, an Illinois Appellate Court determined a case concerning mandatory arbitration in police grievance procedures. In Bartonville v. Lopez, the Village filed a motion in the trial court seeking a declaratory judgment and a permanent stay of arbitration of a grievance filed by a terminated police officer. In seeking to compel arbitration, the terminated officer and his union argued that arbitration was required unless the parties mutually agreed in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) not to arbitrate disciplinary matters.

Specifically, in August 2014, the village police chief filed a complaint seeking to terminate the officer for violating department procedures. In the 23 years that the chief had been with the department, arbitration had never been used for any termination or suspension over five days. Still, the terminated officer and his union sought to compel arbitration for the grievance.

Thereafter, the trial court sided with Village, finding that “there is no provision in the contract between the [Village] and the [Union] stating, or even inferring, that the grievance procedure should, or could, be used to determine disciplinary matters. As such, [the Village] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”

On appeal, Defendant argued that while they recognized that the CBA was silent on whether disciplinary matters were subject to grievance arbitration, they contended that the silence actually favored their position because, under established law, every provision in a CBA is subject to arbitration unless mutually agreed otherwise. The Village countered that arbitration was barred by the Municipal Code and the Administrative Review Law, the doctrine of res judicata, and the principle of judicial economy.

The appellate court, ultimately, agreed with the police officer and his union. The court came to this decision after finding that this matter arose under the Labor Act, and thus, that the question of substantive arbitrability should be decided by an arbitrator since it is unclear whether the parties intended to exclude disciplinary matters from grievance arbitration. Moreover, the fact that the Village had not previously arbitrated terminations and suspensions was of little weight to the appellate court.

Municipalities and other public bodies should therefore be explicit in the CBA if they want to exclude the arbitration of grievances.