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Town of Framingham v. Framingham Police Officers Union

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

July 10, 2018


          Heard: March 9, 2018.

         Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on March 2, 2017. A motion for a preliminary injunction was heard by Maynard M. Kirpalani, J.

          Christopher J. Petrini for the plaintiff.

          Dennis M. Coyne for the defendant.

          Present: Lemire, Ditkoff, & McDonough, JJ.

          DITKOFF, J.

         The town of Framingham[1] appeals from a Superior Court order denying its motion for a preliminary injunction against the arbitration of a police officer's transfer to the patrol division. We conclude that the transfer and assignment of police officers is within the exclusive managerial authority of the police chief as a matter of public safety pursuant to G. L. c. 41, § 97A, and may not be delegated or contravened through arbitration or collective bargaining. This is so even where it is claimed that the transfer or assignment was motivated by the police chief's perception of the officer's misconduct. Furthermore, we conclude that a municipality seeking to enforce its statutory rights to exclusive managerial authority need not show irreparable harm to be entitled to a preliminary injunction. Accordingly, we reverse the order denying the preliminary injunction.

         1. Background.

         Officer Matthew Gutwill is a police officer in the Framingham police department (department) and a member of the Framingham Police Officers Union (union). The terms of Officer Gutwill's employment are governed by the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) entered into by the union and Framingham on May 12, 2016.

          In 2004, Officer Gutwill began working for the department in the patrol division and was then transferred to the detective bureau, where he served from 2006 to 2008. In Framingham, an assignment to the detective bureau does not confer the rank of detective in the department. It is a specialty assignment distinguished from the patrol division based on the position's role and job requirements, rather than senior employment status within the department. As a detective, Officer Gutwill received a weekly stipend and a more flexible schedule.

         In 2008, Officer Gutwill was assigned to work as a detective with a Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) task force. The assignment was consecutively renewed through 2015 but was at all times temporary, made at the sole discretion of the police chief with the express reservation of managerial authority to transfer or to reassign Officer Gutwill at any time.[2] While working full time and under the operational command of the DEA, Officer Gutwill remained employed by the department and continued to receive his detective stipend. He also enjoyed an increased differential pay rate for nighttime work and additional overtime compensation.

          On September 22, 2015, Officer Gutwill lodged a complaint with the department, alleging misconduct against another detective in the department. The complaint triggered a four-month internal investigation, and Officer Gutwill was displeased with its result. Officer Gutwill also claimed that he was subjected to workplace harassment by members of the department in retaliation for making allegations against a fellow detective.

         In January, 2016, he was informed that the department intended to rotate him out of the DEA task force at an undetermined date to an undetermined position. The department maintains that the transfer was dictated by sound risk management policy to provide opportunities for other officers, to allow rotated officers to share specialized knowledge and experience within the department, and to reduce entrenchment and other concerns associated with so-called "high risk positions." Officer Gutwill, by contrast, suspected the reassignment was made in retaliation for his initial and ongoing complaints.

         Officer Gutwill sought to air his concerns to the police chief in a February 5, 2016, telephone call. During the conversation, Officer Gutwill allegedly made several inflammatory statements to the police chief. Officer Gutwill claimed that a deputy chief lied while testifying in a criminal case, and that another deputy chief was implicated in other misconduct through a Federal wiretap recording. Officer Gutwill also expressed that he was unable to work with fellow detectives as a result of what he believed was retaliatory harassment, and that his complaints were being ignored by the department. Based on these claims, Officer Gutwill told the police chief that he planned to file a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, and stated something to the effect that he would "turn the place upside down."

         In response, the department retained an attorney on February 16, 2016, to conduct an independent investigation of Officer Gutwill's accusations. The investigation commenced on March 1, 2016, and continued through July, 2016, during which time Officer Gutwill's reassignment was delayed pending the outcome of the investigation. After substantial inquiry, the investigator issued a report dated July 14, 2016, determining that the allegations of retaliation were without merit. Despite the absence of any suggestion in the investigator's report that Officer Gutwill was dishonest, [3] the police chief accused Officer Gutwill of denying to the investigator that he made various statements in the February 5, 2016, telephone call.

          Based on the police chief's accusations, Officer Gutwill was placed on paid administrative leave on August 19, 2016, through December 12, 2016, when he was suspended for five days without pay.[4] According to the department, the suspension resulted from violations of rules prohibiting "untruthfulness" concerning Officer ...

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