by Harry Stern
After scoring an arbitration victory, the City of Concord ultimately agreed to pay over $200,000 to settle a related lawsuit filed by Rains Lucia Stern.
Kevin Park worked for the City of Concord (“the City”) for over twenty years in various capacities. He received promotions, raises and commendations. He was a valued member of the team and enjoyed the reputation of being a diligent, dependable employee.
Kevin started his career working at the Concord Pavilion concert venue. The City administration noticed his work ethic and attention to detail and moved him into a supervisory position with the maintenance department.
Kevin’s troubles began with the arrival of Alton Baxley as the director of public works. Prior to the new boss’s arrival Kevin had been a model worker. Baxley managed by intimidation and fostered an atmosphere of suspicion and division.
Baxley eventually orchestrated the termination of this long-time tenured employee. Nevertheless, this case is not about Alton Baxley; it is about Kevin Park.
In short, the City did not have cause to fire Kevin. None of the reasons proffered constituted major misconduct. In fact, Kevin’s errors were minor and would have easily been addressed with positive instruction and coaching rather than levying the economic equivalent of capital punishment (particularly in these dire economic times).
After a contentious and lengthy hearing composing of seven days of testimony, Arbitrator Paul Staudohar returned Kevin to work finding that the City did not have cause to fire him. The arbitrator rejected many of the City’s charges and found that Kevin was “a capable employee. He may need some work on his interpersonal skills but he demonstrated the motivation and commitment to do a high quality job. For most of his twenty years as a City employee there was little if anything to find fault with and much to praise.”
The Battle Continues
Nevertheless, the City balked at returning Kevin to his rightful place among the City’s workforce. The City initially paid some of the back-pay awarded by the Arbitrator but then claimed that Kevin’s position had been “eliminated.” This cut seemed to be something more than a coincidence and certainly raised the inference of a pre-textual decision aimed at retaliating against Kevin for appealing his case. Accordingly, we filed suit on Kevin’s behalf and were prepared to litigate the matter. The case continued to ramp up towards trial with various settlement proposals falling by the wayside. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and after a marathon mediation session we negotiated a very favorable settlement on behalf of Kevin Park. Kevin received an additional $200,000, over and beyond the amount he already received. Significantly, Kevin was also able to accrue seniority and return to the City payroll until such time as he is eligible for retirement, which includes medical benefits for his family.
Although the struggle was long and hotly contested it was extremely gratifying to be able to achieve this great result for Kevin Park and his family. Unfortunately, this case represents the idea that sometimes “binding arbitration” is just the beginning of the fight.