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BRISTOL TOWNSHIP EDUCATION ASSOCIATION v. BRISTOL TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT (05/24/83)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: May 24, 1983.

BRISTOL TOWNSHIP EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, APPELLANT
v.
BRISTOL TOWNSHIP SCHOOL DISTRICT, APPELLEE

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County in the case of Bristol Township School District v. Bristol Township Education Association, No. 81-06341-14-6.

COUNSEL

A. Martin Herring, with him Catherine C. O'Toole, for appellant.

Edwin N. Popkin, Begley, Carlin & Mandio, for appellee.

Judges Blatt, MacPhail and Doyle, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge MacPhail.

Author: Macphail

[ 74 Pa. Commw. Page 446]

Bristol Township Education Association (Association) has brought this appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County vacating an arbitrator's award which had sustained the grievances of Carolyn Pachuki, Edwin Phillips and G. Wesley Frazier (Grievants).*fn1 We reverse and reinstate the arbitrator's award.

Grievants are professional employee teachers of the Bristol Township School District (School District). Grievants took approved sabbatical leaves at various times during the 1979-1980 and 1980-1981 school years. Upon their return, each Grievant was assigned by the School District to a different school, and in two cases a different grade, from that in which they taught prior to their sabbaticals. The arbitrator concluded that, in light of the School District's admission that had Grievants not taken a sabbatical they would have remained at their same school and position, the action of the School District constituted an improper

[ 74 Pa. Commw. Page 447]

    reduction of an employee benefit as well as an involuntary transfer in violation of contractual provisions. The arbitrator ordered Grievants returned, for the school year 1981-82, to the same grades and schools which they taught prior to their sabbatical leaves. In the case of Ms. Pachuki, who had previously taught as a high school art teacher at a school which was to be closed for the 1981-82 year, the arbitrator ordered her assigned to another high school.*fn2

On appeal, the Common Pleas Court determined that the question of sabbatical leave was entirely outside the collective bargaining agreement and therefore the assignment of Grievants to different schools upon their return from leave was not arbitrable.

Our Supreme Court has consistently reminded us of the very narrow scope of review given to the judiciary over arbitration awards. The arbitrator's decision may not be overturned so long as it draws its "essence" from the collective bargaining agreement. Leechburg Area School District v. Dale, 492 Pa. 515, 517, 424 A.2d 1309, 1312 (1981). So long as the subject matter of the dispute is encompassed within the agreement, the validity of the arbitrator's interpretation is not a proper subject for review. Id. Furthermore, the broad deference given to the arbitrator's decision applies equally to his determinations regarding the arbitrability of the subject matter of the grievance. Scranton Federation of Teachers, Local 1147 v. Scranton School District, 498 Pa. 58, 65, 444 A.2d 1144, 1147 (1982). In this regard, the following language from County of Allegheny v. Allegheny County Prison Employees Independent Union, 476 Pa. 27, 31-32, 381 A.2d 849, 851 (1977) (footnotes omitted), is particularly relevant:

[ 74 Pa. Commw. Page 448]

Pennsylvania labor policy not only favors but requires the submission to arbitration of public employee grievances "arising out of the interpretation of the provisions of a collective bargaining agreement." See also Lincoln System of Education v. Lincoln Association of University Professors, 467 Pa. 112, 354 A.2d 576 (1976). From this policy is derived the corollary principle that where, as here, an arbitrator has interpreted a collective bargaining agreement in favor of the arbitrability of the grievance before him, a reviewing court should be slow indeed to disagree.

In this case, the collective bargaining agreement provides for the arbitration of grievances involving the "interpretation of the provisions of this agreement." Here the arbitrator determined that the statutory right*fn3 of sabbatical leave was an employe benefit. Under the contract, the reduction of an employe benefit was classified as a disciplinary action*fn4 which could only be taken for just cause. The arbitrator's interpretation of employe benefits as including sabbatical leave thus placed the matter of these grievances squarely within the terms of the agreement. While we, like the trial court, might have reasonably determined that the term employe benefits included only those benefits specifically

[ 74 Pa. Commw. Page 449]

    delineated in the contract, "[i]t is the arbitrator's construction which was bargained for," United Steelworkers v. Enterprise Wheel and Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593, 599 (1960), quoted in Leechburg, 492 Pa. at 517, 424 A.2d at 1312, and we cannot say that the arbitrator's inclusion of sabbatical leave as an employe benefit was so irrational as to be subject to judicial interference. This is especially true in light of the bargaining agreement's specific reference to provisions of the law and in particular the Public School Code. See Rylke v. Portage Area School District, 473 Pa. 481, 375 A.2d 692 (1977); Greater Johnstown Area Vocational-Technical School v. Greater Johnstown Area Vocational-Technical Education Association, 69 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 208, 450 A.2d 787 (1982); Erie Education Association Appeal, 67 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 383, 447 A.2d 686 (1982); Aliquippa Education Association v. School District of the Borough of Aliquippa, 63 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 91, 437 A.2d 1039 (1981); Chester Upland School District Appeal, 55 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 102, 423 A.2d 437 (1980). Furthermore, the arbitrator, in his opinion, referred to violations of the involuntary transfer provisions, a matter which clearly lies within the bargained-for agreement of the parties.*fn5 The Common Pleas Court's determination on non-arbitrability must therefore be reversed.*fn6

[ 74 Pa. Commw. Page 450]

Order

The order of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, No. 81-06341-14-6, dated May 20, 1982, is hereby reversed and the award of the arbitrator is hereby reinstated.

Disposition

Reversed. Award reinstated.


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