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Supreme Court Affirms Arbitration Decision in CBA Case

In Burlington Administrators’ Association and Nicolas Molander v. Burlington Board of School Commissioners, 2016 VT 35 (April 1, 2016), the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s finding that the arbitrator’s ruling was not in manifest disregard of the law.

Issue: Nicolas Molander served as Interim Assistant Principal at Burlington High School for four years. After applying for the permanent position, the Superintendent recommended him, but the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Employee Relations did not, so the selection committee deadlocked and Molander was not hired. The Burlington Administrators Association submitted a dispute on Molander’s behalf, and the arbitrator determined that the interim appointment was not afforded the same due process rights or tenure as a regular appointment under the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) applicable to school administrators.

Holding: The Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s finding that the arbitrator’s determination should stand, finding that there was no manifest disregard of the law in this case. While the Court did not address whether courts should be empowered to review arbitration awards, it found that even if they were, the Association would not be entitled to a reversal of the arbitrator’s decision for two reasons: courts view arbitrators’ decisions with considerable deference; and to prove manifest disregard, a party has to show that there is a clear governing legal principle that the arbitrator ignored in making his/her decision. In this case, the deferential standard of review and the very narrow means by which a party must prove manifest disregard of the law both weigh in favor of affirming the arbitrator’s decision.

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