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August 21, 2015

Appeals Court Holds Arbitration under Section 42 is Exclusive Remedy

Since the enactment of the Education Reform Act of 1993, school districts and the MTA have consistently disagreed over the rights of a teacher with professional status to redress dismissal from employment.  While school districts have uniformly argued that the exclusive remedy for a teacher dismissal is statutory, pursuant to G. L. c.71, 42, the MTA has vigorously asserted that teachers maintain the right to arbitrate under collective bargaining agreements with just cause provisions.  Significantly, many school districts in the Commonwealth continue to include just cause language in their contracts, thereby giving teacher unions and the MTA the anchor they need to file for contractual arbitration.  The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has permitted this controversy to fester by failing to take a stand on this important issue. 
 
However, there may be an end to this battle with the recently decided case, Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee v. Groton-Dunstable Educators AssociationGroton-Dunstable reinforces the 2011 Appeals Court decision in School Committee of Chicopee v. Chicopee Education Association, 80 Mass. App. Ct. 357 (2011) which previously concluded that 42 presents the exclusive remedy for a teacher to challenge termination.  According to the court in Groton-Dunstable, "the source, authority, and scope of arbitration for terminated teachers derive from 42, not from a contract - regardless of the existence or terms of a collective bargaining agreement."  Such clear and unequivocal language presents a significant victory for school districts since the factors listed in 42 to measure the validity of a teacher termination are more favorable than the just cause construct as applied by arbitrators over the years.  The 42 factors require much more discretion be given to school district decisions and limit arbitrators' authority to review the reasons advanced for termination - all good news for school districts.
 
The MTA has until August 31, 2015 to seek further appellate review of this matter to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.  We will keep watch on this matter and update you as to whether the MTA lets this decision stand or challenges it to the State's highest court. 

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