The Second Department, reversing (modifying) Supreme Court, determined the arbitrator’s interpretation of conflicting evidence must be accepted, but termination of the teacher based on the evidence was not warranted. It was alleged the petitioner-teacher inappropriately restrained a female student who was trying to get past him:
“Where, as here, the obligation to arbitrate arises through a statutory mandate (see Education Law § 3020-a), the determination of the arbitrator is subject to ‘closer judicial scrutiny’ under CPLR 7511(b) than it would otherwise receive” … . “An award in a compulsory arbitration proceeding must have evidentiary support and cannot be arbitrary and capricious” … .
Here, there was a rational basis and evidentiary support for the finding that the petitioner committed the conduct with which he was charged by inappropriately restraining a female student who was trying to get past him. Although a video of the incident, which was admitted into evidence at the hearing, could be interpreted in more than one way, this Court must “accept the arbitrator’s credibility determinations, even where there is conflicting evidence and room for choice exists” … .
However, in light of the petitioner’s otherwise unblemished record of approximately 19 years as a teacher with the respondent, the penalty of termination of employment was so disproportionate to the offense as to be shocking to one’s sense of fairness … . Matter of O’Brien v Yonkers City Sch. Dist., 2023 NY Slip Op 03011, Second Dept 6-7-23
Practice Point: In this arbitration pursuant to the Education Law, the court was required to accept the arbitrator’s interpretation of conflicting evidence. But termination of the teacher for inappropriately restraining a female student who was trying to get past him shocked one’s sense of fairness.