On May 4, 2009, the Appellate Division decided City of Clifton v. Clifton P.B.A. Local #36, Docket No.: A-4806-07T3. In the case, Defendant, Clifton P.B.A. Local #36, appealed from a trial judge’s decision vacating an arbitrator’s award of thirteen (13) shift differential (SD) days to police detectives.
The trial judge ruled that, in a case in which the union’s grievance was filed eighteen (18) months after the alleged wrong first occurred, and not within the twenty (20) days provided for in the collective bargaining agreement, the arbitrator exceeded his powers when stated that he had waived the twenty (20) day contractual time limit. In reaching that conclusion, the judge discussed the Supreme Court’s decision in Board of Ed. Of Borough of Alpha v. Alpha Ed. Ass’n, a case in which the Court recognized and applied the continuing violation doctrine to preserve a late-filed grievance by the union resulting from the Board’s cessation of payment of health insurance benefits. Because the trial judge found that the arbitrator exceeded his powers in considering the matter, the judge did not render an opinion on any substantive issue raised by the parties.
On appeal, the union claimed that the award was timely pursuant to the continuing violation doctrine as recognized by the Supreme Court. The City of Clifton argued, like the trial judge, that the arbitrator did not find a continuing violation to have occurred, but rather, determined to waive the contractual twenty (20) day requirement.
The Appellate Division determined the arbitrator’s decision is susceptible to both interpretations. According to the Court, the arbitrator’s decision suggests that he nominally declined to decide the applicability of the continuing violation doctrine, instead couching his decision in terms of waiver. However, the result reached was identical to the one reached in Alpha by application of the continuing violation doctrine. Consequently, the Court remanded the matter to the arbitrator for clarification of the basis for his decision on the timeliness of the action.