On June 18, 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the City of Chicago did not have to comply with an arbitrator’s award that required it to destroy police misconduct records as stipulated in the governing collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
In City of Chicago v. Fraternal Order of Police, Chicago Lodge No. 7, the Fraternal Order of Police, Chicago Lodge No. 7 (FOP) arbitrated Section 8.4 of its 2007-12 CBA with the City of Chicago, which required the City to destroy of police misconduct records after five (5) years. The arbitrator issued an award requiring both parties to agree on a solution for document destruction. The City then sought to overturn the award on public policy grounds citing the Illinois Local Records Act (50 ILCS 205/1, et seq.). The City filed suit in state court, which overturned the arbitrator’s award at the circuit and appellate courts with the Illinois Supreme Court in agreement.
The Illinois Local Records Act prevents the destruction of all public records. Records may be destroyed after the head of an administrative agency submits documents to an appropriate Local Records Commission for review. The Commission determines whether documents have “no administrative, legal, research, or historical value and should be destroyed or otherwise disposed of.”
The City argued that various sections of the Local Records Act mandate the City to maintain records and follow recordkeeping and review procedures under the Act. Specifically, the City is required to submit documents to the Commission to determine whether documents can be destroyed or must be preserved. The FOP argued that the City was required to abide by the CBA’s agreed upon contract language and that the City knew of its obligations under the Act upon agreement.
It has been long held that when Illinois courts review an arbitrator’s decision, the arbitrator’s award is construed, if possible, as valid. However, Illinois law carves out an exception that can overturn an arbitrator’s award if the decision runs contrary to public policy. Further, state law requires that when a conflict exists between a contract provision and state law, state law prevails.
The Illinois Supreme Court concluded that the arbitrator’s award violated an “explicit, well-defined, and dominate public policy.” The Illinois Supreme Court reviewed an arbitration decision in favor of the Fraternal Order of Police and found the City of Chicago satisfied the narrow public policy exception to vacate arbitration awards that are based on collective bargaining agreements. Under this exception, the court will vacate an award if it is “repugnant to the established norms of public policy.” This is determined by applying a two-part test. The first part requires the identification of a well-defined and dominant public policy, found in the Local Records Act. Then, the test looks to determine whether the arbitrator’s award violated the public policy. The Illinois Supreme Court held that the arbitration award violated an explicit, well-defined, and dominant public policy, and thus invalidated the collective bargaining agreement section in question.
Following the majority opinion, Justice Kilbride, writing in dissent, argued that the arbitrator’s award should have been upheld because it only required both parties to meet and negotiate to reconcile the contract language and public policy considerations.
Public employers should take note that any collective bargaining agreement in which they are a party that contains requirements to destroy discipline records similar to those in this case, is likely now invalid. Employers should review their collective bargaining agreements for this type of provision and consult with their labor and employment attorneys on appropriate action.