Dispute About Arbitration for Terminated Cops

As former Minneapolis mayor, R. T. Rybak, persuasively has argued, police unions frequently undermine efforts to reform policing here and elsewhere.[1]

Now a dispute has emerged about arbitrators decisions about police officers who had been terminated for misconduct.

A StarTribune journalist examined the record of terminated Minnesota police officers getting their jobs back in arbitration.[2] “More than 80 po­lice of­fic­ers across Min­ne­so­ta were fired and fought their dis­charge in ar­bi­tra­tion over the past 20 years. A­bout half got their jobs back,” and “the true figure could be slightly higher” because “Min­ne­so­ta’s pub­lic re­cords laws pro­hib­it re­leas­ing any in­for­ma­tion at all when ar­bi­tra­tors o­ver­turn a de­ci­sion to fire a cop with­out im­pos­ing any type of dis­ci­pline. Such total ex­on­era­tions, while un­com­mon, are erased from pub­lic re­cord.”

The current Minneapolis Police Chief, Medaria Arradondo, shares this view of arbitration. He said, ““There is noth­ing more de­bili­tat­ing to a chief from an em­ploy­ment mat­ter per­spec­tive, than when you have grounds to ter­mi­nate an of­fi­cer for mis­con­duct, and you’re deal­ing with a third-par­ty mech­a­nism that al­lows for that em­ploy­ee to not only be back on your de­part­ment, but to be pa­trol­ling in your com­mu­ni­ties.” This is why he has withdrawn from further contract negotiations with the union and why he wants the Minnesota Legislature to pass legislation to reduce the scope for arbitration of terminated officers.

This harsh judgment of such arbitrations needs qualification, said the StarTribune journalist. “Some [termination] cases nev­er go to ar­bi­tra­tion, and some are ne­go­ti­ated and clas­si­fied as res­ig­na­tions or re­tire­ments.”

A stronger defense of labor arbitration was provided by Stephen F. Befort, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and a part-time labor arbitrator. He starts by explaining that labor arbitration is “a due process review of discipline and discharge decisions. The process entails an informal evidentiary hearing before a neutral decision maker. Minnesota law currently requires that all public sector collective bargaining agreements provide for the binding arbitration of disciplinary disputes. The arbitrator’s task is to determine whether the employer had just cause to support the discipline or discharge decision.”[3]

In this process arbitrators “are individuals who have developed expertise in labor relations and personnel matters. Federal and state agencies maintain rosters of arbitrators who meet certain qualifications. Arbitrators are not appointed by these agencies, but instead the parties to the dispute (i.e. municipalities and unions) mutually select one or three arbitrators from a roster to hear and resolve the dispute.”

Befort then reports that Minnesota arbitrators upheld discharge decisions by all kinds of employers (not just police) in 52 percent of over 2,000 such cases over 20 years while employees won reinstatement and full back pay in only 20 percent of the cases. The other 28 percent of the cases were “’split’ decisions in which discharges were reduced to some lesser form of discipline such as suspension without pay.” These statistics came from a 2015 book by Befort and two faculty colleagues which was “the largest empirical study of arbitration outcomes ever undertaken.”

Moreover, Befort claims that the above statistics are similar to those for police arbitration over a four-year period according to an article by one of his University of Minnesota Law School students that was published in an American Bar Association journal. These statistics were upholding police officers terminations, 53%; overturning such terminations, 23%; and split outcomes, 24%.

Finally Befort points out that if there were no labor arbitrations, the alternatives are leaving the employers’ decisions unreviewable or the more expensive and slower court litigation, neither of which is desirable.

Conclusion

As a retired attorney who specialized in business litigation, I was intimately familiar with the costs (beneficial to law firms and lawyers) and delays in resolution in such court litigation. Moreover, I became aware of the frequent adverse psychological impact of such litigation on the parties to the disputes. Therefore, I became an advocate for alternative dispute resolution (ADR), especially mediation but also arbitration, and served as Chair of the Minnesota State Bar Association’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Section.[4]

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[1] See Former Minneapolis Mayor Discusses Police Reform Problems, dwkcommentaries.com (June 21, 2020).

[2] Bjorhus, Fired Minnesota officers have a proven career saver: arbitration, StarTribune (June 21, 2020).

[3] Befort, Counterpoint: In defense of arbitration, StarTribune (June 19, 2020).

[4] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Ruminations on Lawyering (April 20, 2011)(interest in ADR and chairing ADR Section); My First Ten Years of Retirement (April 23, 2011)(service as arbitrator); International Commercial Dispute Resolution (Aug. 11, 2011)(arbitration); Intraocular Lenses Litigation (Aug. 18, 2011) (litigation against ex-employees); Employers’’ Lawsuits Against Former Employees (Aug. 25, 2011); List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: LAWYERING.

 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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