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Court rules against Capitol Police in case of fired cop

Workplace arbitration case had moved to federal courthouse after standoff

A federal court has once again ruled against the Capitol Police in a case regarding arbitration of terminations from the department. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
A federal court has once again ruled against the Capitol Police in a case regarding arbitration of terminations from the department. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

For the third time in four months, a federal court has ruled against the U.S. Capitol Police in a case related to arbitration of firings from the force.

The court ordered the Capitol Police to comply with an arbitration decision to reinstate an officer fired for misconduct, supporting an earlier ruling made by the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights and aligning with a January decision in a USCP arbitration case and another in November.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a judgement Friday in the case of Officer Christopher Donaldson, who was fired by USCP in 2016 and sought arbitration of that decision through the U.S. Capitol Police Labor Committee.

Arbitration is the final step in a lengthy process for settling grievances, including when officers assert they have been wrongfully terminated.

The court rejected a petition from Capitol Police to review a decision by the OCWR (previously the Office of Compliance) that upheld an arbitration decision that would allow him to return to work.

“For the third time, the Court has denied the Department’s efforts to avoid third party review of their termination decisions,” said Megan K. Mechak, of Woodley & McGillivary LLP, who represented the Labor Committee. “This is yet another unanimous decision on the same issue,” she added.

Donaldson was investigated in 2015 by USCP’s Office of Professional Responsibility following a domestic incident involving his wife and baby, which resulted in a recommendation for termination.

A department disciplinary review board heard the case and recommended a 45-day unpaid suspension rather than termination. Capitol Police Chief Matthew R. Verderosa reviewed the recommendations and fired Donaldson.

Under the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the department, termination decisions made by the police chief are subject to binding arbitration. According to the court filings, the USCP refused to select an arbitrator, taking the legal position that termination actions are not subject to arbitration.

The union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Office of Compliance. The OOC Board then ordered Capitol Police to “cease and desist” from “failing or refusing to arbitrate the grievance concerning the termination of Officer Christopher Donaldson.”

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The arbitrator upheld the grievance brought by Donaldson and the union, and in May 2017 determined that Donaldson should be reinstated, but subject to a 30-day suspension and a two-year “last chance” agreement. Donaldson was also awarded back pay by the arbitrator.

The department fought the arbitration award and filed exceptions with the Office of Compliance. The board rejected the exceptions, which brought the case into federal court.

“Police arguments fell well short of being clearly established law, the Board rejected the Police’s excuse and held that the Police committed an unfair labor practice by refusing to engage in arbitration,” reads the decision.

In addition to rejecting the Capitol Police department’s petition for review of the decision, the court also granted the Office of Compliance application for enforcement of the decision.

“This decision is yet another victory for our members,” said Labor Committee Chairman Gus Papathanasiou in a statement over the weekend. “Hopefully, the Department will stop wasting taxpayer money and countless hours asserting these baseless claims. The Department claims to be a law enforcement agency, but it continues to refuse to comply with clear mandates from the Office of Compliance and the courts.”

The court pointed to two recent decisions issued that “flatly reject the statutory interpretation arguments made by the Police,” citing cases in January and November where the court also ruled against USCP.

In January, the court ordered the reinstatement of Andrew Ricken, who was fired in 2014, and enforcement of the back pay and benefits that he was awarded.

The court decided a related case in November 2018, which granted a petition to make the department and the union negotiate a new contract, while dismissing the Capitol Police’s appeal over whether the union could challenge employees’ terminations through arbitration.

Requests for comment from Capitol Police were not returned.

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