Court Upholds Arbitrator’s Decision to Reinstate City Employee Accused of Sexual Harassment; City’s Failure to Abide by Time Limits in Collective Bargaining Agreement Proves Critical to Outcome

When a collective bargaining agreement contains a clause setting forth time limits for disciplinary action, courts will apply it, even if it means reinstating an employee who has been terminated for sexual harassment. 

This was the holding in the case of City of Richmond v. SEIU, decided by the First District Court of Appeal.  After an arbitrator had ordered reinstatement of the terminated harasser – because the City had not brought the disciplinary action within 6 months of the alleged offense as required by the parties' collective bargaining agreement – the City petitioned to reverse the arbitrator’s ruling on the ground that it would violate public policy to reinstate the employee. The trial court agreed with the city, but the court of appeal reversed, holding that when the parties agree on time limits, their agreement must be respected even if it “risks returning a possible sexual harasser to the workplace.”

The court noted that “[w]hile there is a strong public policy against workplace harassment, the city has not established that public policy precludes arbitral enforcement of a reasonable limitation period contained in a collective bargaining agreement barring stale claims of misconduct.”

This is an important case for employees and employers alike in situations where there is a governing collective bargaining agreement.

Our firm regularly represents employers and employees in just these types of cases, so if you have an issue in this area, feel free to give us a call.