Consequences of Children and Youth Services's Failure to Maintain Accurate and Complete Records
In Greene County v. District 2, United Mine Workers of America, 578 Pa. 347, 852 A.2d 299 (2004), the trial court vacated the award of the arbitrator reinstating an employee because it found that it was manifestly unreasonable for the arbitrator to consider mitigating factors when a Children and Youth Services worker failed to maintain accurate and complete records.
In reversing the trial court, this Court noted that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has criticized prior court decisions "for applying variations of the essence test in reviewing the arbitrator's decision and presumably has retreated from its prior stance limiting an arbitrator's authority to overturn the discipline meted out by public employers against employees who threaten their ability to perform their public duty." Greene County v. District 2, United Mine Workers of America, 778 A.2d 1259, 1264 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2001).
As such, in Greene County the Court held that "because the issue in this case, whether the employer had just cause to discharge the grievant falls within the terms of the CBA, and because the arbitrator's interpretation of just cause as its application in this case can rationally be derived from the terms of the agreement, affirmance of the trial court is not warranted even though we believe that the arbitrator's decision, though rational, is incorrect." Id.
On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed our decision. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that:
The rationale expressed in our decision in City of Easton is rooted, in part, in the unique nature of the public employer in our Commonwealth. Id.
Unlike private sector employers, public employers are ultimately responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of our communities.
Due to their unique nature and role, public employers must be able to perform the functions they are charged to carry out by our citizenry.
Consistent with this status, our Court has recognized that public employers cannot be compelled in arbitration to relinquish powers that are essential to the proper discharge of their functions. Id.
Thus, while as a general proposition, an arbitrator has broad authority to interpret an undefined provision regarding termination for just cause in a collective bargaining agreement, Office of the Attorney General, to permit an arbitrator to interpret the agreement as to require reinstatement of an employee who was determined to have engaged in egregious misconduct that strikes at the very core function of the public enterprise would be to deprive the employer of its ability to discharge that essential function. City of Easton, 756 A.2d at 1111-12.
An arbitrator's award granting reinstatement in such a situation would not be rational and would therefore fail the essence test. Greene County, 578 Pa. at 362, 852 A.2d at 308.