Court Upholds Firefighter Termination For Violating Covid-19 Protocols

Written on 01/05/2024

Nicola Tamburro is a firefighter for the City of Stamford, Connecticut and a member of Local 786 of the IAFF. During the Covid-19 pandemic the City established protocols that restricted entrance to public buildings, mandated mask-wearing, social distancing, and re­quired submission to temperature checks and health questions at a designated spot upon entrance.

On April 9, 2020, Tamburro vio­lated the City’s Covid-19 protocols by entering the Fire Headquarters through an undesignated door, without submit­ting to a temperature check or health inquiries, and without wearing a mask. He walked past several firefighters to engage in a shouting match with another firefighter. As a result of Tamburro’s behavior, he was placed on paid admin­istrative leave and, after an investigation, he was disciplined. The City mandated that he forfeit 15 days’ vacation time and complete an anger management course.

Local 786 referred a grievance to arbitration challenging Tamburro’s discipline. When an arbitrator denied the grievance, Local 786 filed a lawsuit challenging the Arbitrator’s decision.

A trial court rejected Local 786’s lawsuit. The Court began by reciting the general standards for evaluating a challenge to an arbitrator’s opinion: “Upon the application of any party to an arbitration, the superior court shall make an order vacating the award if it finds any of the following defects: (1) if the award has been procured by corruption, fraud or undue means; (2) if there has been evident partiality or corruption on the part of any arbitrator; (3) if the arbitra­tors have been guilty of misconduct in refusing to postpone the hearing upon sufficient cause shown or in refusing to hear evidence pertinent and material to the controversy or of any other action by which the rights of any party have been prejudiced; or (4) if the arbitrators have exceeded their powers or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made.”

Local 786 argued that the Arbitrator exceeded his authority. The Court was not impressed, commenting: “The questions presented to the Arbitrator were ‘Did the City of Stamford have just cause to disci­pline the Grievant, Nicola Tamburro? If not, what shall the remedy be, consistent with the collective bargaining agreement?’ The award held the discipline was just and denied the grievance.

“The collective bargaining agreement provides for arbitration under these cir­cumstances. The arbitration submission was unrestricted. Our inquiry generally is limited to a determination as to whether the parties have vested the arbitrators with the authority to decide the issue presented or to award the relief conferred. With respect to the latter, we have explained that as long as the arbitrator’s remedies were consistent with the agreement they were within the scope of the submission. Here, the award is consistent with the submission. The Arbitrator did not exceed his authority and the award was mutual, final and definite.”

Local 786 also argued that the evidence in the record did not support the Arbitrator’s conclusion. The Court disagreed, holding “the Arbitrator had ample evidence to support the finding that there was just cause to discipline Tamburro within the scope of his authority granted under the collective bargaining agreement and submission. Local 786 argued that Tamburro was not on notice of the consequences of violation of the Covid-19 protocols, only recently imposed. Local 786 also cited deficiencies in the investigation and pre-arbitration grievance hearing. The issues and evidence in support of these arguments was presented to the Arbitrator for consideration and addressed by the Arbitrator in his decision.

“The Court will not second guess the Arbitrator and review the evidence un­derlying the award to determine whether it is sufficient to sustain the ‘just cause’ standard or the severity of the discipline imposed. It was for the Arbitrator, and not this Court, to construe the collective bargaining agreement’s ‘just cause’ stan­dard and apply it to the facts the Arbitrator found to exist based on the evidence presented in the arbitration hearing.”

Tamburro v. City of Stamford, 2023 WL 7540719 (Conn. Super. 2023).