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Community College of Rhode Island v. CCRI Educational Support Professional Association

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

May 18, 2018

Community College of Rhode Island et al.
CCRI Educational Support Professional Association/NEARI.

          Providence County Superior Court (PM 15-5315) Associate Justice Netti C. Vogel

          For Plaintiffs: Jeffrey S. Michaelson, Esq.

          For Defendant: Carly Beauvais Iafrate, Esq.

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



         The defendant, CCRI Educational Support Professional Association/NEARI (the union), appeals to this Court after a justice of the Superior Court vacated an arbitration award that reinstated the grievant, Michael Crenshaw, to his position as a Campus Police Officer for the plaintiff, the Community College of Rhode Island. Significantly, Crenshaw was allowed to continue in his employment for nearly a year without completing the statutorily required police training academy or receiving a waiver from having to do so. When his application for a waiver eventually was not approved, the college terminated his employment, precipitating a grievance by the union, which ultimately prevailed at arbitration; the college was ordered to reinstate Crenshaw to his position and compensate him for lost time. The college petitioned the Superior Court to vacate the award, and it did.

         This case came before the Supreme Court pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not summarily be decided. After considering the parties' written and oral submissions and after 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.

         I. Facts and Travel

         A. The Hiring and Firing

         In July 2013, Michael Crenshaw applied for a position as a Campus Police Officer at CCRI, a position that falls within the Merit System, G.L. 1956 chapter 4 of title 36.[1] Before that, after graduating from the Massachusetts Police Academy, Crenshaw had been a police officer in the Southborough Police Department. He was terminated from that position and applied to CCRI a year and a half later.

         On November 8, 2013, CCRI extended an offer of employment to Crenshaw, conditioned on his successful completion of the Rhode Island Municipal Police Training Academy. The collective bargaining agreement (CBA) then in effect between the college and the union provided for a mandatory 130-day probationary period for new hires, which entailed supervisor evaluations every two months. During the probationary period, an employee would serve at the pleasure of the college and he could be terminated for any reason. However, the agreement provides that if a probationary employee is not notified in writing before the expiration of the 130-day period that his services are no longer desired, the employee "shall be continued in their employment." Significantly, at that point in time, the CBA provides that employees can be disciplined only for just cause.

         When Crenshaw began working on November 17, 2013, the condition of his continued employment was that he complete the academy; there was no mention in the conditional offer of the possibility of a waiver from that requirement. Indeed, the education and experience qualifications that were outlined in the job description itself called for him to "satisfactorily complete the * * * Academy curriculum * * *." However, according to Crenshaw, when he interviewed for the position, he was informed that the college preferred applicants who had already completed a training curriculum elsewhere, because that enabled the employees to obtain a waiver from having to complete the twenty-two-week academy.

         The procedure for obtaining such a waiver was set forth in the Rhode Island Department of Public Safety's General Order 2.100, entitled "Basic Recruit Officers Program Waiver, " which bore an effective date of July 15, 2013.[2] The General Order provided that, "upon receiving a conditional offer of employment and the sponsorship from a Rhode Island Law Enforcement agency[, ]" an out-of-state police officer "shall seek a Basic Recruit Officers Program Waiver from the [Rhode Island Police Officers Commission on Standards and Training] prior to permanent employment as a police officer." The order then goes on to state that the sponsoring agency-in Crenshaw's case, the CCRI campus police department-shall submit the waiver request in writing to the Executive Director of the academy, along with the prospective waiver candidate's previous training certification and other relevant training documentation. The Executive Director then notifies the Chairman of the commission of the waiver request. The candidate himself must complete an application for the waiver, and he must have completed all entry standards required of academy candidates. Finally, the Executive Director appoints academy staff to review the submitted training materials and ensure compliance with all requirements; if there is a shortcoming, a notification is sent to the sponsoring agency.

         Crenshaw was presented with and signed a request for a waiver from the academy on May 14, 2014. A mere three days later, May 17, 2014, his 130-day probationary period concluded. It is noteworthy that, during his probation, Crenshaw received high scores on three evaluations by his supervisor, Captain Timothy Poulin. Captain Poulin also completed a background investigation on Crenshaw, which he summarized in a May 30, 2014 report. That investigation uncovered that Crenshaw had had his firearms license revoked in 2012 as a consequence of his self-reported addiction to a controlled substance; that Crenshaw had been deemed unfit for duty following a psychological evaluation in 2012 while employed by the Southborough Police Department; and that he had been arrested in 1993 and received a traffic violation in 2005, both of which had been dismissed. Nevertheless, apparently satisfied by his discussions with Crenshaw, Capt. Poulin, on August 18, 2014-well after the expiration of Crenshaw's probationary period-submitted the waiver request that Crenshaw had signed months earlier.

         The Executive Director of the academy, Lieutenant Scott Raynes, appointed the Department of Public Safety's General Counsel, Lisa Holley, to review Crenshaw's application. On October 21, 2014, Holley wrote to Lt. Raynes, stating that "I would not recommend that you approve this Waiver * * *. Nothing, however, shall preclude Officer Crenshaw from reapplying once these issues are resolved to the satisfaction of the Commission." The issues specified by Holley largely mirrored those uncovered as a result of Capt. Poulin's investigation. Holley delineated a number of concerns as bases for her adverse recommendation: (1) there was insufficient information in the application to determine if Crenshaw's termination from the Southborough Police Department in 2012 would result in his placement in the National Decertification Index, [3] which would make him ineligible for a waiver; (2) Crenshaw failed to list his arrest and traffic violation on the waiver application, and he also did not disclose the latter infraction to the psychologist who interviewed him as part of the waiver process; (3) Crenshaw's self-reported substance abuse and psychological issues caused his license to carry a firearm to be revoked in 2012, and he did not provide the waiver-process psychologist with updated medical records; and (4) Crenshaw received a below-average psychological rating, which would not, in the absence of a specific ...

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