Involuntary reassignment subject to arbitration under CBA says 14th Court of Appeals

 

Orange Association of Fire Fighters v. The City of Orange, et al 14-13-00061-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dist.], March 6, 2014).

This is a collective bargaining case where the trial court held a grievance was not subject to the CBA’s arbitration provision, but the Fourteenth Court of Appeals reversed and remanded (but really rendered).

Orange Association of Firefighters (the “Association”) filed suit against the City of Orange, Texas, and its city manager (collectively “the City”), seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to compel arbitration of a grievance pursuant to the parties’ collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”). The basis of the grievance was that the Fire Chief assigned an employee involuntarily to the position of Fire Marshal when, in the past, the position had been filled by voluntary assignment. The Association alleged that the change from its past practices was a violation of the Agreement.  The City refused to submit to arbitration noting the CBA expressly provided for an exclusion for assignments of work and the Association brought suit. The trial court granted the City’s traditional motion for summary judgment, denied the Associations motion and the association appealed.

The Houston Court of Appeals (14th District) held despite the express clause reserving the right to management to assign work the City’s violated the Agreement’s “maintenance of standards” provision by altering its past practices of filling the position of Fire Marshal by voluntary assignment. The court focused on the lack of an exclusion for “maintenance and standards” from the arbitration provision even though there was an express exclusion clause for assignments of work.  The court further held the grievance involves the “interpretation, enforcement, or application” of the Agreement and, thus, would be subject to the specified grievance procedure including arbitration. The trial court’s order is reversed and rendered a judgment compelling arbitration. The court then reversed the award of attorney’s fees against the Association.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Justices McCally, Busby, and Simmons (by assignment). Opinion by Justice Simmons. The attorney listed for the Association is Matthew Bachop.  The attorneys listed for the City are John Cash Smith and Andrew Barnett Culpepper