Was There a Link Between Employees Unauthorized Trip Outside a Mental Health Facility and the Resident's Death
Can an Arbitrator Reduce the Punishment of Employees of Department of Mental Health to Lengthy Suspension as there was No Direct Link Between their Misconduct and a Resident's Death ?
In American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees v. Illinois, 124 Ill. 2d 246, 260, 529 N.E.2d 534, 124 Ill. Dec. 553 (1988) (AFSCME), the Department of Mental Health discharged two employees of a state mental health facility because they made an unauthorized trip outside the facility.
During their absence, a resident of the facility was left unattended and died.
However, the misbehaving employees were not assigned to the wing where he resided.
An arbitrator reduced the employees' discipline to lengthy suspensions.
The arbitrator explained that they had otherwise been exemplary employees; they admitted their wrongdoing; there was no direct link between their misconduct and the resident's death; and they could return to work without being likely to repeat their improper conduct. AFSCME, 124 Ill. 2d at 250-52.
The supreme court upheld the arbitrator's decision.
While acknowledging "the important public policy of this State's commitment to compassionate care for the mentally disabled," the court nonetheless could not discern "any explicit public policy that is well defined and dominant." AFSCME, 124 Ill. 2d at 262-63.
No policy required "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, 124 Ill. 2d at 263.
The court stressed that the arbitrator's decision meted out substantial punishment for the employees' misconduct, and thus did not condone their actions, and that the arbitrator expressly found that the employees were not likely to repeat their offending conduct. AFSCME, 124 Ill. 2d at 263-64.