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December 5, 1977


Hampden. Petition filed in the Superior Court on October 11, 1973, to vacate the award of an arbitrator. The case was heard by Griffin, J. After review by the Appeals Court, the Supreme Judicial Court granted leave to obtain further appellate review.

Hennessey, C.j., Quirico, Braucher, Kaplan, & Wilkins, JJ.


School and School Committee. Arbitration. Contract, Collective bargaining contract.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Quirico

The question whether an arbitrator acted in excess of the authority conferred on him is always open for judicial review. [791-792]

A demonstration that an arbitrator had made an error of law or fact in his consideration of a question referred to him would not warrant the vacation or modification of his award. [792-793]

It was within the authority of an arbitrator appointed pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement to order the reinstatement of a school teacher to a vacant supervisory position where the school committee had failed to follow procedures required by the agreement in determining not to reappoint him, and such an award did not interfere with the exclusive managerial prerogative of the committee in violation of G. L. c. 71, §§ 37 and 38. [793-798]

This is an application under G. L. c. 150C, § 11, to vacate an award by the Board of Conciliation and Arbitration (arbitrators) in a labor dispute between the plaintiff school committee and one of its teachers, the defendant Frank Korbut (Korbut). *fn2 The award ordered the reinstatement of Korbut as Coordinator of Language Arts at the West Springfield Senior High School and his reimbursement for lost compensation during the 1972-1973 school year over and above his regular compensation as a teacher. After hearing, a Judge of the Superior Court struck the part of the arbitration award that directed Korbut's reinstatement, but otherwise confirmed it. *fn3 The defendants appealed to the Appeals Court from that part of the Superior Court decree striking the reinstatement award. *fn4 The Appeals Court affirmed the decree, holding that the reinstatement order was beyond the power of the arbitrators in that it invaded the school committee's plenary power to appoint and reappoint academic personnel. School Comm. of W. Springfield v. Korbut, 4 Mass. App. Ct. 743, 748-749 (1976).

The matter came before us for further appellate review, and for the sake of expediency in an already lengthy proceeding we entered an order vacating the Superior Court decree without accompanying opinion. *fn5 We ordered judgment to enter reinstating Korbut to the position of coordinator for the 1977-1978 school year, and reimbursing him for lost compensation during the 1972-1973 school year. We summarize below the facts taken from the arbitrators' award and detail our reasons for decision.

Korbut, a tenured teacher in the West Springfield Senior High School, was appointed to the additional position of Coordinator of Language Arts *fn6 there for the 1970-1971 school year and reappointed for the 1971-1972 school year. In May, 1972, the Supervisor of Language Arts and the school principal orally advised Korbut that they were not recommending him for reappointment, apparently because his performance in the capacity of coordinator was believed to have been unsatisfactory. Soon, thereafter, the school committee voted not to reappoint Korbut for the position for the ensuing school year. The post of coordinator was vacant for the school year 1972-1973, and remained so up until the time of our order. Although Korbut was not reinstated as coordinator, he apparently continued in his teaching position at the school.

On his nonreappointment, Korbut, acting pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement entered into by the school committee and the West Springfield Education Association, *fn7 started proceedings which resulted in arbitration of the matter. The two issues which were submitted to the arbitrators by the parties were: (1) whether the school committee had violated the collective bargaining agreement in failing to reappoint Korbut, and (2) if so, what the appropriate remedy should be. On September 19, 1973, the arbitrators issued an award finding that the school committee had violated the agreement, and directing that Korbut be reinstated as coordinator "forthwith" and "be reimbursed for lost compensation during the 1972-73 school year." The award was based on Article XIV of the agreement concerning chairmanships of academic departments. The arbitrators interpreted Article XIV to provide that a department chairmanship carried a one-year term, but also required that a chairman, whose failure to be reappointed stemmed from a predominantly disciplinary motive, be given written notice of the decision not to renew his appointment and an opportunity to be heard. Those notice and hearing procedures were not observed.

The defendant did not seek in the Superior Court, nor on appeal, relief from the arbitration award inasmuch as it limited Korbut's reimbursement for lost compensation to the 1972-1973 school year. Accordingly, we consider below only whether the order that Korbut be reinstated was properly struck from the award. Mass. R. A. P. 16 (a) (4), as amended, 367 Mass. 919 (1975).

1. Availability of Judicial Review.

The provisions of G. L. c. 150C concerning the recognition and enforcement of collective bargaining agreements were, at the time of the award here at issue, applicable to the collective bargaining unit of the teachers' association and the school committee through the operation of G. L. c. 149, § 178K (as amended through St. 1972, § 375). *fn8 Sections 11 and 12 of G. L. c. 150C set forth the standards by which the Superior Court may review, vacate or modify arbitrators' awards. Of the grounds stated in these sections, the school committee relies on two, namely that the arbitrators' determination exceeded the scope of their reference (G. L. c. 150C, § 12), and that the reinstatement of Korbut exceeded their powers (G. L. c. 150C, § 11). Although we note the narrow scope of judicial review available when a matter submitted to arbitration has been decided, the question whether the arbitrators acted in excess of the authority conferred on ...

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