The Minnesota Supreme Court Wednesday ordered the reinstatement of a Richfield police officer, who was fired by the city after slapping a Somali teen during a 2015 incident.
Nathan Kinsey was fired in 2016 because of the confrontation, which was videotaped and spread by social media. The city said he didn’t report his use of force.
An arbitrator, however, found because he was highly respected, and his performance reviews had been generally positive, he should be returned to the force and receive remedial training.
Richfield scored a victory last year when the Minnesota Court of Appeals backed the city’s decision to fire Kinsey, citing the so-called public policy exception, which allows courts to invalidate private contracts that are contrary to public policy. In this case, it involved a contract with the police union that lets the arbitrator be the final judge.
The Appeals Court decision was only the second time the public policy exception was used to overturn an arbitrator award for a fired police officer.
The Minnesota Supreme Court, however, has never vacated an arbitration award on public policy grounds — and it didn’t in this case.
“It is difficult to conclude that the arbitration award violates public policy given the finding that excessive force was not used,” Justice Anne McKeig wrote on behalf of the court’s majority.
Kinsey’s failure to report does not provide a basis for applying the public-policy exception because the arbitrator found that, even though Kinsey should have reported the incident, the City’s policy was not clear on that question. The factual findings of the arbitrator, findings that we give deference to, do not support overturning the arbitration award on the basis of a rarely used public-policy exception.
The city had claimed that the arbitrator’s decision would undermine the department’s ability to enforce its policies, but McKeig noted the arbitrator “did impose discipline on Kinsey, a three-shift suspension, for his ‘unacceptable performance’ in failing to properly report the incident.”
And, since the contract between the union and the city gave the authority to the arbitrator, that should have been the end of the issue.
McKeig acknowledges that many people would find the officer’s actions disturbing, but Richfield’s contract with the police union gives the arbitrator the authority “to decide what constitutes just cause for termination.”
There was no dissent filed with today’s opinion.
“Binding arbitration is a pillar of collective bargaining,” said Sean Gormley, executive director of Law Enforcement Labor Services (the union) said in a statement. “It is imperative that employers and unions respect and abide by these decisions, even when the outcome is unfavorable to one side or the other.”