Acting Superintendent of Schools of Liverpool Cent. School Dist. v. United Liverpool Faculty Ass'n

Decision Date18 October 1977
Citation42 N.Y.2d 509,369 N.E.2d 746,399 N.Y.S.2d 189
Parties, 369 N.E.2d 746, 96 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2779 In the Matter of the arbitration between the ACTING SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS OF LIVERPOOL CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, Appellant, and UNITED LIVERPOOL FACULTY ASSOCIATION, Respondent.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

Edward A. O'Hara, III, and Dennis G. O'Hara, Liverpool, for appellant.

Gerard J. De Wolf, Bernard F. Ashe and Richard C. Heffern, Albany, for respondent.

JONES, Judge.

We hold that in arbitrations which proceed under the authority of the Taylor Law, the scope of the particular arbitration clause, and thus whether the question sought to be submitted to arbitration is within or without the ambit of that clause, is to be determined by the courts. In making such determinations the courts are to be guided by the principle that the agreement to arbitrate must be express, direct and unequivocal as to the issues or disputes to be submitted to arbitration; anything less will lead to a denial of arbitration.

In this case Liverpool Central School District and the United Liverpool Faculty Association entered into a collective bargaining agreement which provided a grievance procedure, the fourth and final step of which called for submission of an unresolved grievance to arbitration. Tracking the provisions of subdivision 4 of section 682 of the General Municipal Law, the school district and the faculty association defined a grievance as follows: "Grievance shall mean any claimed violation, misinterpretation, or inequitable application of the existing laws, rules, procedures, regulations, administrative orders or work rules of the District, which relates to or involves Teachers' health or safety, physical facilities, materials or equipment furnished to teachers or supervision of Teachers; provided, however, that such term shall not include any matter involving a Teacher's rate of compensation, retirement benefits, disciplinary proceeding or any matter which is otherwise reviewable pursuant to law or any rule or regulation having the force and effect of law."

In November, 1974, Mrs. Lorraine Gargiul, an elementary school teacher, was obliged to take sick leave due to illness. In February, 1975 she notified the school district that she would be able to return to her teaching duties the following month. On February 26 she was advised that pursuant to the provisions of section 913 of the Education Law she would be required to submit to a complete medical examination by the school district physician, Dr. Paul Day, before being permitted to return to the classroom. The teacher took the position that she would participate only in an examination by a female physician. Following further correspondence of similar tenor, on March 17, 1975 the board of education passed a resolution directing her to be examined by Dr. Day before returning to her teaching responsibilities, if, after reviewing her health history, he determined that such examination was necessary. On the same day, based on the teacher's refusal to be examined by Dr. Day, she was placed on leave of absence without pay until the matter was resolved.

On April 10, 1975 the faculty association instituted grievance procedures on behalf of Mrs. Gargiul. When the issue was not resolved, the faculty association demanded arbitration in accordance with the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement. The school district promptly applied for a stay of arbitration which was granted at Special Term. The Appellate Division reversed. We now reverse the determination of that court and reinstate the disposition of Special Term.

It will be useful to place this case, and indeed all arbitration under the Taylor Law, in a broader context. Generally speaking, as the law of arbitration between private parties has developed and progressed, a difference in perspective and approach has evolved between arbitration in commercial matters and arbitration in labor relations. In the former it is the rule that the parties will not be held to have chosen arbitration as the forum for the resolution of their disputes in the absence of an express, unequivocal agreement to that effect; absent such an explicit commitment neither party may be compelled to arbitrate (Gangel v. DeGroot, 41 N.Y.2d 840, 841, 393 N.Y.S.2d 698, 699, 362 N.E.2d 249, 250; Matter of Riverdale Fabrics Corp. (Tillinghast-Stiles Co.), 306 N.Y. 288, 289, 292, 118 N.E.2d 104, 105, 106). In the field of labor relations, by contrast, the general rule is the converse. Because of the recognition that arbitration has been demonstrated to be a salutary method of resolving labor disputes, because of the public policy (principally expressed in the Federal cases) which favors arbitration as a means of resolving such disputes, and because of the associated available inference that the parties to a collective bargaining agreement probably intended to resolve their differences by arbitration, the courts have held that controversies arising between the parties to such an agreement fall within the scope of the arbitration clause unless the parties have employed language which clearly manifests an intent to exclude a particular subject matter (Matter of Howard & Co. v. Daley, 27 N.Y.2d 285, 289-290, 317 N.Y.S.2d 326, 329-331, 265 N.E.2d 747, 749-751; Matter of Long Is. Lbr. Co. (Martin) 15 N.Y.2d 380, 385, 259 N.Y.S.2d 142, 146, 207 N.E.2d 190, 193). 1

Arbitration agreements that derive their vitality from the Taylor Law (Civil Service Law, art. 14) are sufficiently different that they cannot properly be categorized under either of these headings. Initially we observe that our court has never held that boards of education, unless authorized by specific legislation, are free to delegate to arbitrators the resolution of issues for which the boards have official responsibility. The enactment of the Taylor Law, establishing authority for the use of voluntary arbitration, confirmed rather than vitiated the principle of the nondelegable responsibility of elected representatives in the public sector. Hence, we approach consideration of the scope of arbitration clauses in public employment from this perspective.

When challenge is raised to the submission to arbitration of a dispute between employer and employee in the public sector the threshold consideration by the courts as to whether there is a valid agreement to arbitrate (CPLR 7503, subd. (a)) must proceed in sequence on two levels. Initially it must be determined whether arbitration claims with respect to the particular subject matter are authorized by the terms of the Taylor Law. The permissible scope of arbitration under that law is variously limited (Matter of Susquehanna Val. Cent. School Dist. at Conklin (Susquehanna Val. Teachers' Assn.), 37 N.Y.2d 614, 616-617, 376 N.Y.S.2d 427, 428-430, 339 N.E.2d 132, 133-134; Syracuse Teachers Assn. v. Board of Educ., 35 N.Y.2d 743, 744, 361 N.Y.S.2d 912, 320 N.E.2d 646; Board of Educ. v. Associated Teachers of Huntington, 30 N.Y.2d 122, 130, 331 N.Y.S.2d 17, 23, 282 N.E.2d 109, 113). If, of course, the subject matter of the dispute between the parties falls outside the permissible scope of the Taylor Law, there is no occasion further to consider the language or the reach of the particular arbitration clause (Matter of Candor Cent. School Dist. (Candor Teachers Assn.), 42 N.Y.2d 266, 397 N.Y.S.2d 737, 366 N.E.2d 826; Matter of Cohoes City School Dist. v. Cohoes Teachers Assn., 40 N.Y.2d 774, 390 N.Y.S.2d 53, 358 N.E.2d 878).

If it is concluded, however, that reference to arbitration is authorized under the Taylor Law, inquiry then turns at a second level to a determination of whether such authority was in fact exercised and whether the parties did agree by the terms of their particular arbitration clause to refer their differences in this specific area to arbitration. In the field of public employment, as distinguished from labor relations in the private sector, the public policy favoring arbitration of recent origin does not yet carry the same historical or general acceptance, nor, as evidenced in part by some of the litigation in our court, has there so far been a similar demonstration of the efficacy of arbitration as a means for resolving controversies in governmental employment. Accordingly, it cannot be inferred as a practical matter that the parties to collective bargaining agreements in the public sector always intend to adopt the broadest permissible arbitration clauses. Indeed, inasmuch as the responsibilities of the elected representatives of the tax-paying public are overarching and fundamentally nondelegable, it must be taken, in the absence of clear, unequivocal agreement to the contrary, that the board of education did not intend to refer differences which might arise to the arbitration forum. Such reference is not to be based on implication.

We turn then to the appeal now before us to make the necessary judicial determinations both with respect to Taylor Law authorization and as to the scope of this arbitration clause, i. e., whether Mrs Gargiul's present complaint falls within the contract definition of grievance. We have no difficulty at the first level in concluding that there is nothing in statute, decisional law or public policy which would preclude the board of education, acting in behalf of the district, and the association, should they agree to do so, from referring disputes of the present nature to arbitration.

At the second level, we address the particular language employed by the parties for the articulation of their agreement to arbitrate....

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