Cook County Record

Monday, April 6, 2020

IL Supreme Court: Cop fired for misconduct can't relitigate termination via grievance, arbitration

By Dan Churney | Feb 1, 2017

Springfield capitol

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 court. 

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. 

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Organizations in this Story

Elias, Meginnes, Riffle & Seghetti, P.C.Hasselberg Grebe Snodgrass Urban & WentworthIllinois Supreme Court