Reinstatement of Employees by An Arbitrator After Alleged Misconduct

In American Federal of State, County & Municipal Employees v. State, 124 Ill. 2d 246, 254, 529 N.E.2d 534, 124 Ill. Dec. 553 (1988) (AFSCME I), a patient died while two mental health technicians were on an unauthorized trip to a flea market. However, the patient was not assigned to the ward where the technicians worked, so the violation "did not result in any injury to or abusive treatment of a resident." AFSCME I 124 Ill. 2d at 263. The arbitrator reinstated the technicians. On appeal, our supreme court found that the reinstatement did not violate the public policy of "compassionate care for the mentally disabled." AFSCME I, 124 Ill. 2d at 262. "There is simply no policy that mandates the discharge of all employees found guilty of mistreatment of a service recipient when the arbitrator expressly finds that the grievants were exemplary mental health employees, when punishment has been imposed, and where no nexis exists between the infraction and the patient's tragic death." AFSCME I, 124 Ill. 2d at 263. See also Board of Education of School District U-46 v. Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, 216 Ill. App. 3d 990, 576 N.E.2d 471, 159 Ill. Dec. 802 (1991). In American Federal of State, County & Municipal Employees v. Department of Central Management Services, 173 Ill. 2d 299, 305, 671 N.E.2d 668, 219 Ill. Dec. 501 (1996) (AFSCME II), however, the supreme court retreated from its earlier ruling regarding the need for a nexus. In AFSCME II, a DCFS specialist stated in a written report that three children were "doing fine" even though they had died in a fire the month before. She also failed to submit care plans for the family for three years. DCFS discharged her, and an arbitrator reinstated her. Our supreme court found that reinstatement violated public policy because it "cannot be said to in any way promote the welfare and protection of children." AFSCME II, 173 Ill. 2d at 318. The dissent in AFSCME II criticized the majority because there was no nexus between the employee's misconduct and the harm suffered. AFSCME II, 173 Ill. 2d at 336 (Heiple, J., dissenting), citing AFSCME I, 124 Ill. 2d at 260-65. The majority found that "this court has never ruled that such a nexus must exist and to suggest otherwise simplifies the holding" of AFSCME I. AFSCME II, 173 Ill. 2d at 332. The court noted that AFSCME I identified two other factors that were equally important: whether the award sanctioned violations of the law and whether it posed a threat of harm to third persons. AFSCME II, 173 Ill. 2d at 332. The court in AFSCME II concluded that "when public policy is at issue, it is the court's responsibility to protect the public interest at stake. That is why courts will not give the drunken pilot the opportunity to fly a commercial airliner again even though no harm befell his passengers." AFSCME II, 173 Ill. 2d at 333.