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Streetsboro Education Association v. Streetsboro City School District Board of Education

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Portage

June 3, 2019


          Civil Appeal from the Portage County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2017 CV 00588.

          Ira J. Mirkin, Richard T. Bush, Charles W. Oldfield and Danielle L Murphy, Green, Haines, (For Petitioner-Appellant).

          Christian M. Williams and Jacqueline Walsh Brickman, Pepple & Waggoner, Ltd, (For Respondent-Appellee).



         {¶1} Appellant, the Streetsboro Education Association ("SEA"), appeals from the judgment of the Portage County Court of Common Pleas, denying its petition to enforce its arbitration agreement with appellee, Streetsboro City School District Board of Education ("the Board"). We affirm.

         {¶2} SEA is the sole and exclusive representative of all bargaining unit teachers employed by the Board. SEA and the Board entered a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"), effective July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2019. In 2016, Gretchen Weaver and Shane Ellsworth were employed by the Board as music teachers. During their employment, the teachers were involved in planning and supervising band camps. On August 1, 2016, two parents of band members raised issues with the Board relating to alleged hazing activities occurring at the 2016 band camp. Superintendent Michael Daulbaugh ("the Superintendent") initiated an investigation that led to specifications providing a basis for the Board to consider terminating the teachers. Accordingly, on December 15, 2017, the Superintendent provided the teachers with pre-termination notices setting forth reasons why the Board would be considering termination; pre-termination hearings were held and, on January 24, 2017, the Board adopted two resolutions initiating proceedings to terminate the teachers' employment contracts, pursuant to Art. 31 of the CBA and in accordance with R.C. 3319.16, governing the procedures for terminating a teacher's contract by a board of education.

         {¶3} On January 27, 2017, SEA filed informal grievances, on behalf of the teachers, pursuant to the CBA. The grievances alleged the Board violated the progressive disciplinary procedure, defined in Art. 31, as well as the procedure for handling "Parental Concerns," set forth in Art. 12. And, on March 3, 2017, the teachers filed formal grievances relating to the foregoing issues. On March 13, 2017, the Superintendent denied the grievances, concluding the Board did not breach, misapply, or misinterpret the CBA in initiating the termination proceedings. On April 6, 2017, SEA challenged the Superintendent's conclusion by filing a "Level Three" grievance, pursuant to the CBA. On May 12, 2017, the Superintendent principally concluded the Level III grievance was filed untimely. Pursuant to Art. 19(D), SEA was required to file the challenge to the initial decision within five days of the previous decision. Notwithstanding this conclusion, SEA subsequently notified the Superintendent of its intention to advance the grievance to formal arbitration. In response, the Superintendent advised SEA that the Board would not participate in arbitration because their grievances were waived for failure to file a timely appeal of the original grievance. Although SEA requested a panel of arbitrators from the American Arbitration Association, the file was closed based upon the Board's refusal to participate.

         {¶4} On July 5 and July 25, 2017, respectively, SEA filed the underlying petitions in the trial court on behalf of each teacher. The petitions alleged the Board violated the CBA by declining to go forward with binding arbitration of the teachers' two grievances. The Board, in its answer, noted the appeal of the grievances was untimely and, as a result, arbitration was waived. And, the Board asserted that, despite the CBA's provisions relating to progressive discipline and parental concerns, the "sole remedy" for termination proceedings is the statutory appellate process set forth in R.C. 3319.16. The cases were consolidated and the issues were briefed.

         {¶5} Meanwhile, in the R.C. 3319.16 proceedings, the teachers demanded a hearing in relation to the termination of their teaching contracts. In August and September of 2017, a referee conducted a hearing to determine whether the preponderance of the evidence supported the grounds for termination and, if so, whether termination of the teachers' employment contracts should be recommended to the Board. In December 2017, the referee filed his recommendation. He found the teachers did not permit, condone, or encourage hazing and they generally protected the health, safety, and welfare of students. The referee, however, found that certain actions by the teachers were done in "bad taste" and were "fairly serious matters" constituting just cause for discipline. Ultimately, the referee recommended, however, that the teachers not be terminated.

         {¶6} On December 28, 2017, the Board rejected the referee's recommendation based upon its differing interpretation of the facts and terminated the teachers' employment contracts. The teachers subsequently filed statutory appeals to the court of common pleas and then to this court, where the matter remains pending.

         {¶7} Returning to the instant matter, on July 10, 2018, the trial court denied SEA's petition, concluding, inter alia, the plain language of the CBA required the parties to litigate disputes regarding teacher terminations per the procedures under R.C. 3319.16. SEA appeals that judgment and assigns five errors for our review. Its first assignment of error provides:

         {¶8} "The common pleas court erred by denying petitioner-appellant Streetsboro Education Association's petition to enforce its arbitration agreement with respondent-appellee Streetsboro City School District Board of Education."

         {¶9} SEA frames the foregoing assigned error as a "general assignment of error." The general assignment of error does not precisely assert an error for review; rather, it provides an overlay of basic principles of arbitration law. Given the lack of argumentation, there is no error for this court to evaluate. This purported assignment of error therefore lacks merit.

         {¶10} We shall address SEA's next two assignments of error together. They assert:

         {¶11} "[2.] The lower court erred by disregarding the strong presumption of arbitrability created by the parties' broad arbitration agreement and determining that the agreement precluded ...

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