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Rhode Island Council On Postsecondary Education And University v. American Association of University Professors, Part-Time Faculty United

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

January 26, 2018

Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education and University of Rhode Island
American Association of University Professors, Part-Time Faculty United, a/k/a URI/AAUP, PTFU.

         Providence County Superior Court (PM 14-5703) Jeffrey A. Lanphear Associate Justice

          For Plaintiffs Jeffrey S. Michaelson, Esq.

          For Defendants Gina A. DiCenso, Esq., V. Edward Formisano, Esq., Michael D. Pushee, Esq.

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, and Robinson, JJ.


          Paul A. Suttell Chief Justice

         The Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education[1] and the University of Rhode Island (collectively URI) appeal from a Superior Court judgment denying their motion to vacate an arbitration award and confirming the award. This case came before the Supreme Court pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause as to why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. After considering the parties' written and oral submissions and reviewing the record, we conclude that cause has not been shown and that this case may be decided without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court in part and vacate it in part.


         Facts and Procedural History



         Kenneth Jolicoeur, the grievant, was a long-term part-time faculty member at URI and a member of the American Association of University Professors, Part-Time Faculty United (the union). Jolicoeur had routinely taught two courses per semester and served as a coordinator in the Special Programs Office since the early 1990s. Jolicoeur was assigned two courses to teach during the fall 2013 semester. In addition, he received a "Special Programs Contract" from URI by letter dated August 21, 2013, informing him that he had "been tentatively assigned to teach the following: Course and Selection: Coordinate Special Programs Information Services." Shortly thereafter, Jolicoeur received the following email from Associate Dean Kathryn Quina (Dean Quina):

"As we noted previously, we cannot give you an additional contract for coordinating if you are teaching two courses. We worked out an arrangement with everyone this year to allow you to coordinate plus teach one course, but we are limited to two contracts. Do you wish to continue with both courses, and perhaps pick up the coordinating role in the spring * * *."

         Dean Quina later explained during the grievance process that, "in compliance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement and Labor Board decision, [Jolicoeur had] been provided with the maximum of two courses for the [f]all 2013 semester * * *." Jolicoeur chose to give up the "Special Programs Contract, " but he did so "under protest." Consequently, the union filed a grievance on Jolicoeur's behalf based on the rescission of his "Special Programs Contract." The grievance proceeded through step four[2] of the grievance procedure set out in Article XIII of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), but the dispute was left unresolved.

         On December 23, 2010, the board of governors for higher education[3] and the union had executed a CBA effective July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2012. The CBA was set to automatically renew every year if neither party gave notice of a modification of the CBA. The record does not indicate that either party ever gave notice. The final language contained in the CBA is the result of an interest arbitration[4] between the parties. During the interest arbitration, the union proposed the following provision to be included in the "Assignments" section of the CBA: "[a] part-time faculty assignment is normally two (2) courses per semester." URI, on the other hand, did not submit any proposed language related to either a minimum or maximum number of assignments for part-time faculty. Ultimately, the interest arbitrator rejected the union's proposed language because he found that data from URI on part-time faculty course assignments for the spring 2010 semester did not corroborate that norm.



         The union filed a demand for arbitration on behalf of Jolicoeur on January 2, 2014, in accordance with the arbitration provision contained in Article XIII of the CBA. Section 13.4 of the arbitration provision provides that "grievances arising out of the provisions of [the CBA] relating to the application or interpretation or violation thereof may be submitted to arbitration." The union's demand for arbitration alleged that URI violated several articles of the CBA, including Article X concerning course assignments to part-time faculty members. The union sought compensation for Jolicoeur to make him whole after URI's rescission of his "Special Programs Contract" and a "rejection" of URI's imposition of a two-course part-time faculty assignment maximum.

         Before the arbitrator, the union averred that the dispute was arbitrable because the CBA encompassed the rights that Jolicoeur alleged URI had infringed. The union further argued that URI's imposition of the part-time faculty assignment limitation violated the CBA. In addition, the union contended that URI violated Article III's nondiscrimination clause of the CBA when it rescinded the "Special Programs Contract." For relief, the union, on Jolicoeur's behalf, sought the salary for the rescinded "Special Programs Contract, " "an order that [URI] refrain from discriminating against the grievant for his [u]nion activity, " and an order that URI "cease and desist from so unilaterally imposing" such a limitation. In response, URI countered that the dispute was not substantively arbitrable because the CBA did not cover administrative assignments, such as the "Special Programs Contract." Additionally, URI argued that it did not violate the CBA when it rescinded Jolicoeur's "Special Programs Contract" nor did the union prove that it discriminated against Jolicoeur for his union activity.

         On October 14, 2014, the arbitrator issued an award. Therein, the arbitrator made several findings, including: (1) Jolicoeur was not discriminated against based on his union activity; (2) the dispute was arbitrable because the parties agreed to arbitrate disputes regarding the interpretation or application of Article X, and resolution of this dispute depended on interpretation of the CBA; and (3) URI violated the CBA by limiting Jolicoeur to two assignments for the fall 2013 semester. With respect to his third finding, the arbitrator reviewed the CBA to determine whether it contained the two-course limitation imposed by URI. Specifically, he examined Article X and concluded that it set forth the criteria for URI to assign courses to part-time faculty. In addition, he found that Article I outlined the minimum requirements for part-time faculty to maintain bargaining-unit status with the union. The arbitrator also considered the union's proposal during the prior interest arbitration, which was ultimately rejected, to include language that part-time faculty are "normally" assigned two courses per semester.

         After his review, the arbitrator concluded that neither Article X nor any other CBA provision imposed any limitation on part-time faculty assignments. Thus, he determined that URI's rescission of Jolicoeur's "Special Programs Contract" violated the CBA. The arbitration award required URI to pay Jolicoeur $6, 500 in salary for the rescinded "Special Programs Contract" and to "cease and desist from unilaterally imposing a two (2) course per semester limit on bargaining unit employees."


         Superior Court Review

         On November 13, 2014, URI filed motions in the Superior Court to vacate the arbitration award and to stay the implementation of the award.[5] Before the hearing justice, URI contested the substantive and procedural arbitrability of the dispute, the award's merits, and the arbitrator's finding that the CBA did not include a two-course limitation. In challenging the award's merits, URI contended that the arbitrator's decision was "irrational" and "exceed[ed] the [a]rbitrator's authority." It further contended that the remedy was "half-baked" and went beyond the scope of the dispute set forth before the arbitrator. Moreover, URI contended that the CBA imposed a two-course-per-semester limitation that was implicitly incorporated within the term "part-time" and based on established past practices. URI's arbitrability ...

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