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Spencer-East Brookfield Regional School District v. Spencer-East Brookfield Teachers' Association

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Worcester

June 4, 2018

SPENCER-EAST BROOKFIELD REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT
v.
SPENCER-EAST BROOKFIELD TEACHERS' ASSOCIATION.

          Heard: January 16, 2018

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on May 13, 2016.

          An application for a stay of arbitration was heard by Brian A. Davis, J., and entry of judgment was ordered by David Ricciardone, J.

          Laurie R. Houle for the defendant.

          James P. Hoban for the plaintiff.

          Present: Trainor, Massing, & Singh, JJ.

          TRAINOR, J.

         The Spencer-East Brookfield Teachers' Association (association) appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court permanently staying the grievance arbitration proceeding commenced by the association before the Department of Labor Relations (DLR). The association argues that the arbitration became moot once the teacher involved withdrew his grievance, and, thus, the matter should have been dismissed. At the same time, the association argues that the teacher had an absolute right to arbitrate an alleged collective bargaining agreement (CBA) violation that preceded his termination. The association maintains that it is irrelevant that the teacher did not have professional teacher status, that he had been employed for less than ninety days, and that reinstatement was the remedy being sought. We affirm.[1]

         Background.

         The Spencer-East Brookfield Regional School District (district) and the association entered into a CBA that covered the period July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2018. Edward Suglia was hired by the district in December, 2015. His employment was terminated on January 15, 2016, after approximately forty-four days of employment with the district. On January 19, 2016, the association filed a grievance on behalf of Suglia which asserted that his "rights under the Collective Bargaining Agreement were violated by the school committee . . . when he was terminated . . . without the supports and process that are contractually guaranteed." The school committee, pursuant to Level Four of Article XX of the CBA, determined that it had no jurisdiction over the grievance because it was a personnel matter, and notified the association that it could proceed to Level Five of the grievance procedure.[2]

         In April, 2016, the association filed a petition to arbitrate Suglia's termination with the DLR. The petition asserted that the termination violated the terms of the CBA because the district had failed in its obligations pursuant to Article XVI and Article VIII of the CBA.[3] The association specifically asserted that Suglia's termination violated the provisions of the "Educator Evaluation Process" instrument, which provides a procedure for evaluating teacher progress and is incorporated by reference into the parties' CBA.[4] As remedies, the petition sought "[r]einstatement; make grievant whole; and any and all additional appropriate remedy."

         Pursuant to G. L. c. 150C, § 2(b), the district sought a permanent stay of the grievance arbitration proceedings that had been commenced in the DLR, on the ground that the association's demand was not arbitrable. The Superior Court issued an order, dated September 7, 2016, allowing the district's application to stay the grievance arbitration, and finding that, in the circumstances of this case, the association had no right to grievance arbitration under the CBA and that its remedy existed exclusively in statute. Shortly thereafter, because the matter was pending in the Superior Court, the association sought and obtained a temporary administrative closure of the grievance arbitration proceedings.

         The district then notified the DLR of the court's order staying the arbitration proceedings and requested the dismissal of the arbitration proceeding. The association filed an opposition to the requested dismissal. On October 28, 2016, however, the association withdrew its petition for grievance arbitration before the DLR and notified the Superior Court that the "Plaintiff's petition to stay arbitration is now moot and there is no need for further proceedings beyond the decision already issued by this Court." The district responded by seeking entry of judgment permanently staying the grievance arbitration sought by the association. A judge of the Superior Court allowed the motion, determining that the issue in dispute had been decided on the merits and had been fully adjudicated. He further found that the issue raised as to whether the CBA "may provide for arbitration of teachers' rights that transcend the ones particular to [the] terminated member . . . merits resolution despite the . . . withdrawal of [the] arbitration petition, " and that the matter was not moot. The association appeals from that determination.

         D ...


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