Las Vegas POA

Only Union, Not Terminated Police Commissioner, Can Compel Arbitration

Written on 04/02/2020
Will Aitchison

Matthew Nichols was the Deputy Police Commissioner for Warren, Michigan. On July 18, 2018, Nichols responded to a dispatch call regarding a suspected shoplifting and took an active role in arresting the suspects, one of whom later alleged that Nichols used excessive force in effectuating the arrest. After an internal investigation the Department terminated Nichols.

Nichols challenged his termination in federal court, alleging the City violated his rights to due process and equal protection. Underlying many of Nichols’ claims was that the City denied him the right to challenge his termination in arbitration under the Union’s collective bargaining agreement. Nichols also argued that the CBA allowed him to return to the Union’s bargaining unit in lieu of termination.

The Court rejected Nichols’ contentions. After reviewing the grievance procedure in the Union’s contract the Court found that “assuming that Nichols was entitled under the agreement to return to the bargaining unit following termination of his employment, he was not entitled to compel arbitration under the clear terms of the CBA. The CBA provides that the right to pursue arbitration of Nichols’ grievance rested exclusively with the Union and the Employer. Nichols, therefore, has no individual right under the CBA to demand arbitration.”

The Court observed that where an employee appoints a union as his representative, the employee does not have “the right to bypass the procedures set forth in the agreement and compel arbitration with their individual grievance. The Supreme Court’s decision in Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 191 (1967) rejected the notion that an individual employee has an absolute right to have his grievance taken to arbitration where the grievance procedure gives the union discretion to invoke arbitration. Consequently, the CBA does not mandate arbitration of the present dispute.”

Nichols v. Dwyer, 2020 WL 815478 (E.D. Mich. 2020).

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