Wednesday, May 5, 2010

No Just Cause To Terminate

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had reinstated an award by an arbitrator to a public school teacher dismissed for alleged lack of fluency in English. The facts:

An arbitrator found that the school committee of Lowell (school committee) did not establish just cause to terminate the employment of Phanna Kem Robishaw, a first-grade teacher dismissed for failure to demonstrate satisfactory English fluency. Thereafter, a judge in the Superior Court granted the school committee's application to vacate the arbitrator's award pursuant to G.L. c. 150C, ยงยง 11 and 12, concluding that the arbitrator's decision exceeded his authority and violated public policy. Robishaw appealed, and we transferred the case on our own motion. Applying the well-settled limitations on judicial review of an arbitrator's decision, we conclude that the arbitrator's award in this case should be affirmed.

The court concluded:

Here, the judge determined that "(1) the proper instruction of students is a clearly defined public policy; (2) English fluency is integral to the teaching profession; (3) reinstatement of [Robishaw] would offend the goals of Massachusetts education law; and (4) the Superintendent's inability to assure [Robishaw's] fluency required [her] dismissal from teaching in an English-speaking classroom." The arbitrator, however, made a factual finding that the school committee failed to meet its burden of establishing that Robishaw could not speak English fluently. We are bound by this determination and, therefore, "need not parse the application of the public policy exception to such a scenario, because it is a factual scenario that the arbitrator expressly determined had not been proved." (citations and footnotes omitted)

Massachusetts voters had passed the fluency law in November 2002. The case is School Committee of Lowell v. Robishaw. (Mike Frisch)

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