The Illinois Supreme Court has overturned an appellate
ruling, saying a onetime Peoria-area police officer lost his right to union
grievance procedures in a misconduct matter when he first submitted to a police
board hearing, which resulted in the termination of his employment.
The Jan. 20 decision was delivered by Justice Robert Thomas,
with concurrence from Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier and Justices Charles
Freeman, Rita Garman, Anne Burke and Mary Jane Theis. Justice Thomas Kilbride
did not take part.
The decision backed the Village of Bartonville Board of
Police and Fire Commissioners in its dispute with fired police officer Salvador
Lopez and his union, the Policemen’s Benevolent Labor Committee.
In August 2014, Bartonville’s police chief asked the police
and fire board to terminate Lopez for alleged misconduct in connection with a
July 2014 traffic stop. The board, in consultation with Lopez’ counsel,
scheduled a hearing for the following Oct. 3, during which witnesses were
called, with Lopez himself testifying. At the conclusion of proceedings, the
board fired Lopez.
Lopez then filed a union grievance and sought arbitration,
which spurred the board to go to Peoria County Circuit Court. The board wanted
to block arbitration, arguing the decision to fire Lopez should stand, because
Lopez never sought administrative review of the board’s decision. Further,
arbitration would violate the legal doctrine that a controversy, which has been
decided, should not be again litigated.
Lopez countered his union contract required arbitration for
such disciplinary matters. The circuit court turned him down in April 2015, but
that ruling was overturned in a 2-1 decision by the Illinois Third District
Appellate Court. The board then took the case to the state high court.
Justice Thomas found against Lopez, pointing out the fired
officer had many opportunities before and during the board hearing to contest
the board’s jurisdiction, but did not do so. In fact, Lopez conceded the
board’s jurisdiction by participating in the hearing without protest. Thomas
noted Lopez could have taken court action to head off the hearing, by arguing
disciplinary matters had to be pursued according to the union contract.
“Defendants could have sought an injunction to stay the
Board from continuing the hearing. Defendants did not do so, choosing instead
to participate in the hearing before the Board. Defendants cannot now complain
of that choice,” Thomas observed.
Thomas acknowledged Lopez’ attorney did say at the hearing
that Lopez’ participation did not mean Lopez was waiving his right to lodge a
grievance. However, the attorney did not challenge the board’s authority to
conduct the hearing, or ask the board to postpone proceedings so a grievance
could first be initiated.
Thomas said Lopez was entitled by contract to arbitration,
but waived that right by submitting to the board hearing.
Lopez contended the Bartonville municipal code allows an
“alternative or supplemental form of due process” for disciplinary matters,
meaning Lopez could go through both board and arbitration proceedings, or
simply arbitration if he chose. Justice
Thomas said this position was “illogical,” because it would mean an arbitrator
could override any court rulings on the issue, even one from the state supreme
Thomas backed the circuit court’s finding that an
arbitration hearing on top of the board hearing would constitute litigation of
an issue already decided.
Lopez has been represented by attorney Charles Crowley, of
the Policemen’s Benevolent Labor Committee. Bartonville has been represented by
the Peoria firm of Hasselberg, Grebe, Snodgrass, Urban & Wentworth. The
police and fire board has been represented by the Peoria firm of Elias,
Meginnes & Seghetti.