Judge Dismisses New Haven Grievance Lawsuit

A lawsuit filed by five members of the New Haven Fire Department claiming the city failed to comply with an MOU on promotions, has been dismissed. Harry Bosley, Ernest Jones, Josue Vega, Jr., Christian Cordero, and Ian Cordero claimed the city was not complying with promotional timelines specified in a 2017 memorandum of understanding between IAFF Local 825 and the city.

In 2019, the firefighters sought to grieve the city’s non-compliance with the MOU, but Local 825 declined to take the matter to arbitration. The firefighters then opted to sue the city, contending that their future promotional opportunities were being jeopardized by the city’s non-compliance with the MOU.

The Superior Court for New Haven County dismissed the suit, concluding that the grievance belongs to the union, and absent of finding of a breach of the duty of fair representation, the individual members cannot advance a grievance. Quoting for the court’s decision dismissing the suit (citations and quotations removed to facilitate reading):

  • The plaintiffs argue that they have, to the extent possible, exhausted the administrative remedies available under the collective bargaining agreement, but because the union refused to advance the grievance to the arbitration stage at step three of the grievance procedure, their only available remedy remains with the court.
  • Where the collective bargaining agreement permits only the union to take a grievance to arbitration, the employee has no further remedy unless he can prove that the union breached its duty of fair representation by acting arbitrarily, maliciously or in bad faith.
  • An employee may seek judicial enforcement of his contractual rights . . . [when] the union has sole power under the contract to invoke the higher stages of the grievance procedure, and if … the employee-plaintiff has been prevented from exhausting his contractual remedies by the union’s wrongful refusal to process the grievance.
  • In the complaint, the plaintiffs state that following the union’s refusal to advance the grievance to arbitration, they filed a complaint alleging the union breached its duty to represent the plaintiffs fairly and adequately (DFR claim).
  • Despite this, however, the complaint in this action neither names the union as a defendant nor does it allege that the union breached its duty of fair and adequate representation.
  • In addition, an employee alleging a breach of the duty of fair representation . . . must initially seek relief before the board of labor relations, and jurisdiction regarding that issue lies in the Superior Court only for purposes of an appeal from an adverse final order of the board of labor relations.
  • In light of the foregoing, the defendant’s motion to dismiss is granted without prejudice pending an adverse final decision of the board of labor relations regarding the plaintiffs’ DFR claim.
  • Though the plaintiffs state in their complaint that they filed a DFR complaint against the union with the board of labor relations, there has yet to be an adverse final order in that action.
  • Additionally, the union has not been added as a party in the present action, and the operative complaint does not allege that the union breached its duty of fair representation.
  • Accordingly, the defendant’s motion to dismiss is granted without prejudice.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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