State v. Maine State Employees Ass’n: Employee Grievances

In State v. Maine State Employees Association, an employee with the state health and human services department was fired after a complaint that she had alcohol on her breath when meeting with a client. She was employed in this capacity from the mid 1980s to 2013 when she was terminated following this complaint.

kitchen-1484790Prior to her termination, she had been disciplined for drinking while on the job and entered into what the agency calls a “Last Chance Agreement.”  This occurred in 2002.  The agreement states that as condition of her continued employment, she would refrain from using or possession of any drugs or alcohol while she was being paid by her employer. In other words, she could not drink or use illegal drugs while she was on the clock.

The agreement also said that any violation would result in a termination of her employment, since as the name of the agreement applies, this was to be her last chance. In 2013, she allegedly drove from her office where she meets clients to a client’s home so the client could complete her required paperwork.  When she arrived at the residence, two social services employees were present at the client’s residence and they allegedly noticed what they described as a strong odor of alcohol on her breath.  These two employees reported her to the organization.  The agency conducted an investigation into the incident. At the conclusion of their internal investigation, they stated that they found the complaints of her drinking on the job to be credible and issued a termination letter to this employee for violation of the Last Chance Agreement.

Following her termination, she filed a grievance with the assistance of her union representative and the case was referred to arbitration.  The reason for this is because the union’s collective bargaining agreement called for an arbitration process in various situations. After completing the arbitration process, the arbitrator determined that the agency was in breach of the employment agreement for terminating her based upon the unverified allegation’s made by these two other employees and ordered that the company reinstate her employment.

At this point, the employer filed an appeal seeking to vacate the arbitration award.  Their basis for so doing was that the employee had filed for arbitration after the time for which she was allowed to file a grievance had run pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement.  The court of appeals determined that this was not in error and denied their motion to appeal.  At this point, employer appealed to the state supreme court and that court reversed the reinstatement finding that the employee had not timely filed her grievance.

These cases can be very difficult to handle without the help of an experienced Los Angeles employment attorney so it is often best to contact one as early in the process as possible so you have someone on your side who is aware of how the law works and can help you avoid problems such as this in many situations.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.

Additional Resources:

State v. Maine State Employees Ass’n, October 6, 2016, Maine Supreme Judicial Court

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