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Board of Education v. New Milford Education Association

Supreme Court of Connecticut

April 30, 2019

BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE TOWN OFNEW MILFORD
v.
NEW MILFORD EDUCATION ASSOCIATION

          Argued October 18, 2018

         Procedural History

         Application to vacate an arbitration award, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Litchfield, where the defendant filed an application to confirm the award; thereafter, the case was tried to the court, Hon. John W. Pickard, judge trial referee, who, exercising the powers of the Superior Court, rendered judgment denying the application to vacate and granting the application to confirm, from which the plaintiff appealed.

          William R. Connon, with whom was Zachary D. Schurin, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          Martin A. Gould, with whom was Adrienne R. DeLucca, for the appellee (defendant).

          Rebecca E. Adams filed a brief for the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education as amicus curiae.

          Robinson, C. J., and Palmer, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn, Ecker and Vertefeuille, Js.

          OPINION

          MULLINS, J.

         The plaintiff, the Board of Education of the Town of New Milford (board), and the defendant, the New Milford Education Association (union), which represents the teachers employed by the board, are parties to a collective bargaining agreement (agreement) governing the terms and conditions of that employment. The dispute in this case arises from the union's claim that the teachers' normal work day was extended improperly by the board in the 2015-2016 school calendar.

         Prior to issuing the 2015-2016 school calendar, and while negotiating the agreement for the 2015-2018 period, the board notified the union that it planned to eliminate abbreviated school days. The abbreviated school days previously had been used to provide for teacher development that would take place after students were dismissed but still during the teachers' normal work day. After bargaining to impasse on a number of issues, the parties submitted the issues still in dispute to an arbitration panel (interest arbitration). Following the interest arbitration, the board issued its calendar for the 2015-2016 school year, which the union alleged improperly extended the teacher work day on multiple occasions.

         As a result, the union filed a grievance alleging that the board had violated the agreement by extending the teacher work day and scheduling an excessive number of open house and similar evening events (grievance arbitration). The grievance was heard before an arbitrator, who ultimately decided it in the union's favor. The board then filed an application to vacate the grievance arbitration award with the trial court, and, thereafter, the union filed an application to confirm that award. The trial court denied the board's application to vacate and granted the union's application to confirm.

         The board now appeals from the judgment of the trial court.[1] The board asserts that the trial court incorrectly denied its application to vacate the award because the arbitrator (1) manifestly disregarded the law by concluding that the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata did not apply to bar the union's grievance because the merits of the grievance were decided by the interest arbitration panel, and (2) incorrectly concluded that the union's grievance was arbitrable under the terms of the agreement. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The record reveals the following facts and procedural history. Prior to the 2015-2016 school year, the board had used abbreviated school days, in which the students would be dismissed early, to provide teacher professional development within the teachers' normal work day of seven hours and fifteen minutes. While the parties were negotiating the agreement for the 2015-2018 period, the board provided the following notice to the union: ‘‘Notice of nonmandatory subject of bargaining . . . the board will eliminate abbreviated student school days starting in 2015-2016. Bargaining unit work previously done on these abbreviated days will take place outside of student hours.'' Ultimately, during the negotiation of the agreement, the parties reached impasse on a number of issues. The parties submitted six issues for arbitration before a three member arbitration panel, pursuant to the Teacher Negotiation Act, General Statutes § 10-153a et seq., only two of which are at issue in this appeal.

         The fifth issue submitted by the parties was entitled ‘‘Impact of Notice of NonMandatory Subject of Bargaining [Regarding] Elimination of Abbreviated School Days.'' On that issue, the interest arbitration panel awarded the last best offer of the board, which was ‘‘[n]o new language.'' The sixth issue submitted by the parties was entitled ‘‘Number of Evening Meetings.'' On that issue, the interest arbitration panel also awarded the board's last best offer, which provided that ‘‘[s]ix evening meetings each school year may be scheduled for [o]pen [h]ouse or similar programs with teacher attendance required.'' The interest arbitration award was issued on November 21, 2014.

         In June, 2015, approximately seven months after the interest arbitration panel issued its award, the board released the 2015-2016 school calendar. In that calendar, there were six after school professional development days and ten after school and evening open house and other similar programs. Thereafter, in August, 2015, the union filed a grievance on the basis of the board's issuance of the 2015-2016 school calendar.

         In its grievance, the union made two main claims: (1) ‘‘The 2015-2016 [s]chool [c]alendar includes six . . . after school [p]rofessional [d]evelopment [d]ays. These days are in addition to regular staff meetings and exceed the number of staff meeting[s] allowed per month. The scheduled times for the after school professional development extends the work day for teachers beyond a ‘reasonable amount of time.' The [b]oard failed to provide adequate notice to the [union] of the extended work day for teachers and failed to negotiate the impact of the additional extended days.'' And (2) ‘‘The 2015-2016 [s]chool [c]alendar includes ten . . . after school and evening ‘[o]pen [h]ouse and similar programs (e.g., curriculum presentations, parent-teacher conferences).' The . . . [a]greement allows the [b]oard to schedule six . . . such events per year. The [b]oard failed to provide adequate notice to the [union] of the extended work day for teachers and failed to negotiate the impact of the additional extended day[s].''

         The grievance was ultimately heard before an arbitrator appointed by the American Arbitration Association. Specifically, the parties agreed to submit the following three issues to the arbitrator: (1) ‘‘Is the grievance arbitrable pursuant to [a]rticle XII, [§ 12.04 (B), of the agreement]?''[2] (2) ‘‘Are the essential elements of the common-law doctrine of claim preclusion (res judicata) and/or issue preclusion (collateral estoppel) present? If so, should the arbitrator apply one or both of those doctrines, and dismiss the case with prejudice?'' And (3) ‘‘Did the [board] violate the . . . agreement when it directed teachers to attend professional development activities and parent conferences beyond the scheduled teacher work day on the following daysin the 2015-2016 school year: September 9, September 16, October 14, October 21, November 16, November 18, March 21, March 23, April 13, May 4? If so, what shall the remedy be?''

         At the grievance arbitration, the board contested the arbitrability of the matter. As grounds for its claim, the board asserted that the union's grievance (1) failed to identify a violation of an express provision of the agreement, and (2) was barred by the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata because the matter of extending the teacher work day and any concomitant impact already had been raised and decided before the interest arbitration panel.

         Subsequently, the grievance arbitrator issued a written award, finding the matter arbitrable and ruling in favor of the union on the merits. The board then filed an application to vacate the grievance arbitration award with the trial court, and, thereafter, the union filed an application to confirm. The trial court, also by way of a written memorandum of decision, denied the board's application to vacate and granted the union's application to confirm. The trial court concluded that (1) the board did not demonstrate that the arbitrator manifestly disregarded the law, and (2) although the ...


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