• Arbitrator's Decision Supports Dismissal of Ex-employee's Title VII Claim
  • April 29, 2003
  • Law Firm: Ford & Harrison LLP - Atlanta Office
  • The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a decision dismissing a Title VII claim of retaliatory and discriminatory discharge against the New York City Transit Authority, finding that a decision by an independent arbitrator allowing the employee's discharge rendered the employee's evidence of retaliation or discrimination insufficient. See Collins v. NYCTA. In this case, the plaintiff, Collins, was discharged for assaulting a supervisor. The supervisor filed a criminal complaint against him and Collins pled guilty to disorderly conduct. After filing an EEOC charge, Collins sued the Transit Authority claiming, among other things, discriminatory and retaliatory discharge in violation of Title VII. The trial court dismissed the case at the summary judgment stage. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed trial court's dismissal of the case, noting that although Collins' burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination was minimal, he did not even meet this minimal burden.

    While Collins was employed by the Transit Authority, his employment was governed by the terms of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the Transit Authority and the Transport Workers Union of America, Local 100. After the Transit Authority discharged Collins, he challenged this decision by going through a multi-step grievance procedure set forth in the CBA, which ended in binding arbitration. The union represented Collins at a three-day hearing before an arbitration board, at which evidence was taken. The board determined that Collins had assaulted his supervisor and upheld his discharge, issuing a fourteen-page report supporting its decision.

    In upholding the dismissal of Collins' case, the Second Circuit noted that Collins did not claim that the arbitration board was not a fully independent and unbiased decision-maker or that it did not fully hear his claims of bias and that his supervisor faked the attack. Nor did Collins claim that the arbitration board merely rubber-stamped the Transit Authority's decision to fire him. The court found that Collins' discharge occurred only after a decision, based on substantial evidence, of "an undisputedly independent, neutral, and unbiased adjudicator that had the power to prevent the termination". The court found this fact to be "highly probative" of the absence of discriminatory intent in the discharge and noted that the evidence Collins proffered that the supervisor faked the attack was not sufficient to overcome the impact of the arbitration award allowing the discharge.

    The court held that although a negative arbitration decision rendered under a CBA does not preclude a Title VII action by a discharged employee, a decision by an independent tribunal that is not itself subject to a claim of bias strains plaintiff's proof of discrimination. To survive a motion for summary judgment, Collins had to present strong evidence that the arbitration decision was wrong as a matter of fact. He could do this either by presenting new evidence not before the arbitration board or showing that the impartiality of the arbitration proceeding was somehow compromised. Finding that Collins failed to present any such evidence, the court affirmed the dismissal of his claims against the Transit Authority.