The OSBA Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) recently provided support to the Chardon Local School District Board of Education by providing financial assistance in a teacher termination case.

In 2010, a teacher employed by the Chardon Local School District caused a head-on collision with another automobile, resulting in severe injuries to the driver of the other vehicle. The teacher, who admitted that she had been drinking before the collision, lied to the investigating police officer by telling him that her husband was driving the car involved in the collision. Only after the officer pointed out contradictory evidence did the teacher admit that she was the driver. She was found guilty of vehicular assault, a felony of the fourth degree. After the sentencing, the district suspended the teacher without pay and ultimately terminated her teaching contract.

The Education Association filed a grievance contending that the school district's suspension and termination of the teacher's contract were improper and without just cause. The grievance was submitted to arbitration where the arbitrator concluded that the district lacked good and just cause to terminate the teacher's contract and awarded the teacher back pay. The school district appealed, alleging that the arbitrator exceeded his authority and asked the court to vacate the arbitrator's award.

The Court of Common Pleas in Geauga County agreed with the district, finding that the arbitrator exceeded his authority. Based on his reading of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the arbitrator determined that the school district could not suspend or terminate the teacher's contract unless her conduct was egregious. The arbitrator found that the teacher's conduct did not rise to the level of being egregious and, as a result, her termination was unlawful.

The court, however, held that "an arbitrator may not add terms or provisions to a collective bargaining agreement, nor may an arbitrator ignore or delete terms or provisions within that agreement." In this case, by concluding that the only relevant factor set forth in the CBA was whether the teacher's conduct was "egregious," the arbitrator misinterpreted the CBA and added his own terms. The arbitrator adopted a standard for termination different from RC 3319.16, which was expressly referenced to in the CBA under the section about termination. Under the actual terms of the CBA, the district was not required to prove that the teacher's conduct was egregious before it could suspend or terminate her teaching contract.

Because the arbitrator's award was based upon a determination that exceeded the arbitrator's authority, the court ordered that the award be vacated.

If you have any questions regarding this case, please feel free to contact the OSBA legal services division at (614) 540-4000.

Posted by Sara Clark on 9/17/2012