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Summary of Arbitration Awards
Issued Pursuant to General Laws Chapter 71 And Related Judicial Decisions


III. Judicial Decisions

School Comm. of Natick v. Education Assoc. of Natick, 423 Mass. 34, 666 N.E.2d 486 (1996)
The Supreme Judicial Court held that the superintendent's decision not to renew the contract of an athletic coach is not subject to the just cause standard or to arbitration under G. L. c. 71. The coach was a long-time teacher who had a "stipendiary appointment" as high school baseball coach. At the time of this decision, superintendents had the authority to contract with coaches for a term of no more than three years, under G.L. c. 71, § 47A. The Supreme Judicial Court said, "[b]y limiting coaching appointments to a maximum of three years, the Legislature intended to establish a fixed term of employment, readily terminable at its conclusion."

G.L. c. 71, § 59B has been amended to permit principals to hire and dismiss athletic coaches, subject to the approval of the superintendent. The three-year term for coaches' contracts remains in G.L. c. 71, § 47A.

Turner v. School Committee of Dedham, 41 Mass. App. 354 (1996)
Teacher with professional teacher status [PTS] filed suit in Superior Court to challenge her lay-off pursuant to a reduction in force, arguing that the school district had retained teachers without PTS. The Appeals Court upheld the lower court's order that the teacher should have sought review of the lay-off through G.L. c. 71 arbitration proceedings. The Appeals Court ordered that the prior judgment be modified to remand the matter to arbitration because the teacher had filed her complaint in Superior Court within 30 days and the issue had not been addressed previously by an appellate court.

Marlborough School Committee v. Leonard Morley, Middlesex Sup. Ct., C.A. No. 95-6633 (Oct. 11, 1996)
The Superior Court determined that the good cause standard for the dismissal of principals [or other supervisors] in section 41 was different than the just cause standard for teacher dismissals in section 42. The good cause standard merely requires that the school district show that the grounds for dismissal were "in good faith and ...not arbitrary, irrational, unreasonable or irrelevant the task of building up and maintaining an efficient school system," quoting from a Supreme Judicial Court decision. The just cause standard, however, requires evidence of the grounds listed in section 42, such as inefficiency, incapacity, unbecoming conduct or insubordination. The Superior Court granted the district's motion to vacate the arbitrator's decision and remanded the matter to the arbitrator for further proceedings. The arbitrator had the authority to order reinstatement. The subsequent arbitration decision is described above, in Section II (B).

School Committee of the City of Boston v. Frederick Bromberg, Suffolk Sup. Ct. C.A. No. 97-4921-C (February 10, 1998)
The Suffolk Superior Court allowed the teacher's motion to dismiss the district's petition to vacate the award, because the district failed to file within 30 days as required by G.L. c. 150C, § 11(b). In a footnote, the Superior Court said that the arbitrator did not exceed his authority when he concluded that the teacher was not guilty of the sexual misconduct that resulted in his dismissal.

Westport School Committee v. Coelho, Marchand and Antonucci, 44 Mass. App. Ct. 614, 692 N.E.2d 540 (1998)
The Appeals Court agreed with the Commissioner's argument and held that arbitration procedures under G.L. c. 71 were not applicable to teachers who had been laid off by their school district for budgetary reasons. In footnote 8, the appellate court said that it did not have the Commissioner's argument before it when it decided Turner. The Appeals Court rejected the language contained in Turner "suggesting that the Act's arbitration procedure is an available remedy for all teacher terminations, including economic layoffs."

Porrell v. School Committee of Wayland, 45 Mass. App. Ct. 23 (1998)
The Appeals Court held that a head basketball coach was not entitled to tenure under G.L. c. 71, § 47A, even though he had professional teacher status as a physical education teacher.

City of Worcester, et al. v. Worcester Vocational Teachers Association et al., Worcester Sup. Ct., C.A. No. 98-1686B (August 2, 1999)
The Worcester Superior Court upheld the arbitrator's award, which ordered the re-instatement of a guidance counselor. A guidance counselor was terminated for inappropriate conduct relating to an incident where the guidance counselor allegedly had physical contact with a student during an overnight school outing. The court held that under the authority of M.G.L. c. 150E, § 8 (1996 ed.), the arbitrator appropriately analyzed the evidence presented and determined that there was no just cause for the termination of the guidance counselor. Also, the court held that the re-instatement of the guidance counselor did not violate public policy.

Downing v. City of Lowell, 50 Mass. App. Ct. 779 (2001)
The Appeals Court affirmed the Superior Court's decision to enter summary judgment in favor of the school district ruling that non-renewal of a principal's contract does not constitute a dismissal. It held that the procedural safeguards available to professional teachers under G.L. c.71, § 41 do not apply to principals. In addition, the Court held that a principal serving under contract does not have a constitutionally protected property interest in his employment.

Ballotte v. City of Worcester, 51 Mass. App. Ct. 728 (2001)
Teacher with professional teacher status (PTS) who was terminated from her position due to budgetary reasons was entitled to pursue her statutory claims for damages and reinstatement under G.L. c. 71, § 42 in Superior Court, and was not limited to arbitration of contractual claims under a collective bargaining agreement. Also, the teacher was entitled to bump into a position for which she was currently qualified at a different vocational school within the district, when that position was held by a teacher without PTS. For purposes of G.L. c. 71, § 42, a teacher with PTS who is laid off for economic reasons is entitled to bump into a position for which she is currently qualified if it is held by a teacher without PTS, even if the position is in a different bargaining unit.

School Committee of Beverly v. Geller, 435 Mass. 223 (2001)
The Supreme Judicial Court vacated a judgment of the Superior Court upholding an arbitration award. The arbitrator had ordered reinstatement of a teacher with PTS whom the district had dismissed for conduct unbecoming a teacher, based on his physical and verbal abuse of students on three separate occasions. The arbitrator found no just cause for the dismissal, after conducting an analysis weighing the teacher's 20-plus years of good performance against the incidents of misconduct. The school district appealed to Superior Court, which upheld the arbitration award. The Appeals Court reversed that judgment. In the plurality opinion written by Justice Cordy, three members of the Supreme Judicial Court concluded that if an arbitrator finds that one of the enumerated grounds for dismissal has been proved, the arbitrator may not substitute his judgment of what the penalty should be for that of the school district. Justice Ireland, concurring in the result and with whom Justice Cordy joined, reasoned that the arbitrator's award should be vacated under the rationale of the Appeals Court in its 2000 decision in this case, based on the Commonwealth's well-defined public policy protecting students from physical abuse. Three justices dissented, finding that the arbitrator did not exceed the scope of his statutory authority by reinstating the teacher. Pursuant to the order of the court, the matter has been remanded to the arbitrator.

Goncalo v. School Committee of Fall River, 55 Mass.App.Ct. 7 (2002)
The Appeals Court upheld a Superior Court judge's refusal to vacate an arbitrator's decision denying reinstatement of teacher on the grounds that the teacher lacked professional teacher status at the time of her 1994 dismissal. Teacher asserted that the arbitrator should have based his decision on her tenure status as of 1985 when she last taught in the Fall River school system. Arbitrator had found that teacher had tenure as of 1985, but lost tenure/PTS when she stopped teaching in 1985 and took no steps at the time to preserve her rights. The Appeals Court concluded that the Superior Court judge appropriately limited his review of the arbitration decision, where there was no fraud, and no question as to whether the arbitrator exceeded the scope of his reference or awarded relief in excess of his authority.

Northeast Metropolitan Vocational School v. Josephine Testaverde and the Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education — May 12, 2003
A Superior Court judge approved the Commissioner's decision to refer the plaintiff's petition to arbitration and to direct the arbitrator to address the issue of arbitrability prior to considering the merits of the dispute. The school had argued that the discharge was due to a financial lay-off, and was therefore not arbitrable. The dispute over the arbitrability of the plaintiff's claim turned on a factual determination of the reason for plaintiff's discharge which was, itself, subject to arbitration, not to litigation in the Superior Court. The Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the case in Superior Court was therefore granted. Case is currently pending on appeal to the Appeals Court.

[2 pages] Superior Court Civil Action No. 03-0150 Judith Fabricant, Justice of the Superior Court

South Shore Regional Vocational School District v. South Shore Regional Teachers Federation, et al., Plymouth Sup. Ct., C.A. No. 1026-A (August 20, 2003)
In ruling on cross motions for summary judgment, a Plymouth Superior Court judge upheld the arbitrator's award, which ordered the re-instatement of a culinary arts teacher. The teacher had taken food home from the school without prior permission. The arbitrator found that the teacher had the intent to reimburse the school and the teacher's actions were consistent with past practice at the school. The court found that the arbitrator's decision did not result in the affirmation of a violation of a "well defined and dominant public policy."

Allenson v. DeMoura (Connor, J. Bristol Superior Court) (2004)
Held that where an arbitrator upheld a defendant school superintendent's dismissal of a plaintiff teacher, the arbitration award must be vacated because the arbitrator erred by refusing to accept as evidence a jury's finding in a prior Superior Court case that the sole reason for the plaintiff's termination was that she was regarded as handicapped.

Polito v. School Committee of Peabody, 69 Mass. App. Ct. 393 (2007)
The Appeals Court upheld a contract provision which provided that an assistant superintendent "shall be subject to discharge for good cause and shall be entitled to notice and procedural safeguards provided school principals under G.L. c. 71, §41, including the right to file for arbitration as provided therein." The district argued that the contract provision was unenforceable because it conflicted with the policy behind the statutory arbitration provisions of the Education Reform Act (ERA) (MGL ch. 71, §§ 41 and 42). The district also argued that the substantive limitations of section 41 should apply, and the right to arbitration should accrue to the assistant superintendent only after 3 years of employment. The court found that the contract provision (which the school committee drafted) gave the assistant superintendent a contractual right to arbitration for the entire term of the contract. The court also found that the assistant superintendent's contractual right to arbitration, with a remedy limited to back pay, "has nothing to do with the public policy concerning tenure contained in the ERA."

Atwater v. Commissioner of Education (Hogan, J. Essex Superior Court) (2010)
In upholding the arbitrator's decision, the Superior Court determined that G.L. c. 71, § 42 is constitutional both facially and as applied in the case, and the arbitrator did not misapply the statute or engage in misconduct. The Court found that the creation of an arbitration system for review of termination decisions was neither an improper delegation in violation of the separation of powers requirement of Article 30 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, nor an illegal infringement on the free access to courts requirement of Article 11, because: (a) the arbitration does not infringe upon the core functions of the judiciary, (b) the right being arbitrated was created under statute and not the common law, and (c) the courts maintain meaningful judicial review over the arbitrator's decision. (29 pages) [Essex Superior Court Civil Action No. 06-01454A] ] [See also, summary of SJC decision, below]

Arlington Pub. Sch. v. Coughlin, 26 Mass. L. Rep. 472 (Mass. Super. Ct. 2010)
The Superior Court vacated an arbitration award that ordered reinstatement of a teacher who had been dismissed for conduct unbecoming a teacher and other just cause under G.L. c. 71, § 42. The arbitrator had overturned the dismissal on procedural grounds because the school district violated its own policy not to investigate anonymous tips. The court held that the arbitrator only had the statutory authority to determine whether the teacher had engaged in conduct unbecoming a teacher. He did not have the statutory authority to determine whether the school had violated district policy in its investigation. The court vacated and ordered a rehearing before a new arbitrator.

School Committee of Chicopee v. Chicopee Education Association, Mass. Appeals Court (2011)
The Appeals Court vacated a Superior Court order upholding an arbitration award, and ordered the underlying arbitration award vacated. A dismissed teacher with professional teacher status had grieved his dismissal under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement and an arbitration hearing was held under the terms of the contract. The arbitrator framed the issue as whether the school committee had just cause to discharge the teacher, and found that while just cause for discipline existed (sick leave violation and insubordination), "in line with principles of progressive discipline," the punishment imposed was not commensurate with the violations committed. The arbitrator ordered the teacher reinstated.

The Appeals Court noted that in Beverly v. Geller, 435 Mass. 223 (2001), a majority of the SJC justices (three on Justice Cordy's concurrence and three on Justice Cowin's dissent) had observed that G.L. c. 71 sec. 42 "serves as the source and limit of an arbitrator's authority in teacher dismissal cases, regardless of the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement." The court stated that "Despite the [Supreme Judicial] court's plurality opinion, Geller holds that in the context of teacher dismissal, an arbitrator may not 'ignore the limits imposed by statue,' and craft a decision grounded on the authority provided by a collective bargaining agreement." The Appeals Court found that the arbitrator in the Chicopee matter crafted his decision and award entirely from the assumption that the parties' collective bargaining agreement controlled and without reference to G.L. c. 71, sec. 42, the best interests of the pupils in the district, or the need for the elevation of performance standards. As the arbitrator never even attempted to apply section 42 review to the case, "he necessarily exceeded the authority provided to him under the statute."

Laurano v. Superintendent of Schools of Saugus (SJC 2011)
The SJC rejected the argument of a school nurse who alleged that the district did not follow proper procedures in not renewing her employment. The court held that a school district may end the employment of a non-PTS teacher by simple written notice on or before June 15 that the teacher will not be employed for the subsequent school year. The SJC decision supports what had been the long-standing interpretation of the requirements to not renew a non-PTS teacher at the end of a school year under G.L. c. 71, sec. 41, but which had been called into question by the 2007 Appeals Court decision, School Committee of Hull v. Hull Teachers Association, 69 Mass.App.Ct 860.

The nurse had argued that the Appeals Court decision in Hull meant that the significant procedural rights granted to teachers with PTS by G.L. c. 71, sec. 41 (right to notice of intent to dismiss with an explanation of the grounds for dismissal in sufficient detail to permit [her] to respond; right to receive documents relating to the grounds for dismissal; opportunity to review the decision with the principal or superintendent and to present information pertaining to the basis for the decision) also applied to teachers who had not yet earned PTS. The SJC rejected this interpretation of Hull and the law, reiterating that a decision not to rehire a teacher on the expiration of his or her term of employment cannot be equated to a dismissal during his or her term of employment. [SJC-10856]

Atwater v. Commissioner of Education, 460 Mass. 844 (2011)
A teacher with professional teacher status was dismissed for conduct unbecoming a teacher. He took the matter to arbitration, per state statute (G.L. c. 71, ยง 42), and an arbitrator upheld the dismissal. The teacher then appealed to Superior Court, alleging that the statute violates the Massachusetts Constitution and also that the arbitrator had acted beyond her authority, engaged in misconduct, and exhibited bias against him. In 2010, the Superior Court rejected the teacher's claims and determined that G.L. c. 71, § 42 is constitutional both facially and as applied in the case, and that the arbitrator did not misapply the statute or engage in misconduct. The teacher appealed the decision. In 2011, the Supreme Judicial Court rejected all his claims and upheld the decision of the Superior Court, holding that the state law on arbitration of certain teacher dismissals does not violate the Massachusetts Constitution and affirming that the arbitrator in this case acted properly in finding just cause for the teacher's dismissal.

Last Updated: February 12, 2016
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