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POLC gets terminated Wyoming Officer his job back

Posted by: Jennifer Gomori Posted date: June 20, 2016


— By Jennifer Foley, POJ Editor with excerpts from mlive.com

Bullying will not be tolerated. That’s the message the POLC sent and a terminated Wyoming Officer’s employers heard loud and clear after two arbitrations and a lawsuit.

Wyoming Officer Eric Grunewald was reinstated to his patrol job at the end of 2015 following months of legal moves, which ended in a settlement with the POLC and the City making an undisclosed cash payout to the Officer.

In addition to two arbitrations filed by the POLC, Grunewald filed suit in September 2015 in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids against the City and Police Chief James Carmody, alleging violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act. Grunewald claimed he was fired for using too much sick and vacation time to care for his mother, wife and two sons when they were suffering from serious health problems. In the suit, he claimed the Chief said officers who use sick and vacation time are disloyal to the department. Grunewald and his wife, Amanda, sought $3 million in damages.

Carmody denied the allegation and the City said Grunewald was fired based on performance.
“This is stereotypical bullying mentality where employees are threatened and abused,” said POLC Labor Rep. Will Keizer. “I have spent my entire adult life fighting bullies typified by this behavior and this is exactly why police unions are so important. It’s important POLC members in these situations know they’re not alone – they have a union to support them.”

The case got its roots from a perpetual last chance agreement (LCA) Grunewald signed with the Employer without the POLC’s input in May 2007. The LCA required the Officer to obtain “authorization” whenever he left work prior to the end of his shift.

“After that he never got in trouble for anything,” said POLC Labor Attorney Brendan Canfield. “Fast forward to April 2014 and he was working on a desk that he was building for his son and he got some epoxy in his eye.”

Grunewald called off sick for training the next day, obtaining authorization from his lieutenant to use the sick day, however, he decided to attend the training anyway when his condition improved. During training, his condition worsened and he called off sick sending a text and leaving a voicemail message for the lieutenant, who did not respond. He also told a fellow officer to notify the lieutenant in person, which the fellow officer did.

As a punishment for not obtaining a second authorization to leave, the City later issued additional restrictions on leave time including: requiring a sick slip be submitted; limiting vacation hours to 10-hour blocks; requiring vacation time to be approved prior to posting the schedule; and reporting any absences directly to the on-duty supervisor, which is contrary to the parties’ practice.

“They did a last chance agreement without the union’s knowledge and consent,” Keizer said. “We didn’t even know it existed until the initial discipline came out. And they were relying on this last chance agreement to impose this additional discipline.”

The POLC filed a grievance contesting the restrictions as discipline. The Employer argued it was not discipline, but an Arbitrator ruled the actions were discipline and the Employer lacked just cause to impose them.

This ruling was critical for Grunewald because the Employer terminated him in June 2014 for taking a vacation day to care for his sick wife after the vacation schedule had been posted. Since the Arbitrator ruled the Employer lacked just cause to impose that rule, the POLC sent a letter to the Employer stating they should return the Officer to work with back pay and full benefits. When the Employer refused, the POLC pressed forward with the second arbitration for discharge without just cause.

“We settled the lawsuit and arbitration that morning (Nov. 23, 2015) and I’m confident we would’ve won the arbitration because the rule that they used to fire him no longer existed because it was reversed in the prior arbitration,” Canfield said. “He was given a cash settlement as part of the lawsuit and in exchange he agreed to withdrawn his grievance and the lawsuit.”

As far as the LCA goes, Canfield said, “Those (subsequent restrictions) were eliminated through our first grievance so they’re gone. Our contention would be that (the LCA) is unenforceable so it doesn’t matter if it exists on paper.”