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Stahulak v. City of Chicago

September 24, 1998

JOSEPH STAHULAK, APPELLANT, V. THE CITY OF CHICAGO ET AL., APPELLEES.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Harrison

Agenda 24-May 1998.

The issue in this case is whether a union employee covered by a collective-bargaining agreement has standing to challenge an arbitration award in circuit court absent allegations that the union breached its duty of fair representation. The appellate court held that the employee had no such standing. It therefore reversed the circuit court's judgment in favor of the employee and remanded with directions to dismiss the employee's complaint. 291 Ill. App. 3d 824. We allowed the employee's petition for leave to appeal (166 Ill. 2d R. 315) and now affirm.

The pertinent facts are these. The City of Chicago (City) hired Joseph Stahulak as a firefighter in December 1990. The City and the Chicago Firefighters Union, Local No. 2, International Association of Firefighters, AFL-CIO-CIC (Union), are parties to a collective-bargaining agreement which governs the terms and conditions of employment of City firefighters. Under the agreement, firefighters are subject to a one-year probationary period.

On November 16, 1991, prior to completing his probationary period, Stahulak was discharged for violating the City residency requirement. The Union filed a grievance on his behalf and on behalf of two other employees, arguing that the City violated section 16.2 of the collective-bargaining agreement, which requires the City to follow certain procedures before terminating an employee.

The grievance proceeded to arbitration. In an award issued January 28, 1993, the arbitrator found that the protections of section 16.2 applied to probationary employees. The arbitrator therefore sustained the grievance; however, he did not grant the subject employees unconditional reinstatement. He merely reinstated them to probationary status for the purpose of making the safeguards of section 16.2 available to them pending a final decision of the Chicago fire department.

After returning to probationary status, Stahulak was placed on paid administrative leave. He was ultimately discharged on March 29, 1993, based, again, on his violation of the residency requirement. Stahulak then filed a two-count complaint in circuit court of Cook County against the City; the Chicago fire department; Raymond E. Orozco, fire commissioner of the City of Chicago; and the Union. Count I asked the court to vacate the arbitration award, alleging that the arbitrator exceeded his powers in fashioning the remedy in this case. Count II asserted a cause of action for a common law writ of certiorari, but merely repeated the same allegations challenging the arbitration award in Count I.

Pretrial proceedings ensued and the parties eventually filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Stahulak, setting aside the arbitrator's award and remanding the matter for arbitration with a finding that Stahulak had been an employee for over one year.

The appellate court reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss Stahulak's complaint. 291 Ill. App. 3d 824. It noted that under section 16 of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (5 ILCS 315/16 (West 1996)) and the Illinois Uniform Arbitration Act (710 ILCS 5/12 (West 1996)), proceedings to vacate an arbitration award entered pursuant to a collective-bargaining agreement must be brought by the parties to the agreement. 291 Ill. App. 3d at 829. In this case, the City and the Union are parties to the agreement, but Stahulak as an individual is not. The appellate court reasoned that an individual employee is not entitled to judicial review of a grievance proceeding or arbitration unless the employee can show that his union's conduct in processing the grievance was arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith. 291 Ill. App. 3d at 832. Here, Stahulak made no allegations that the Union breached its duty of fair representation. Therefore, the court concluded that Stahulak lacked standing to bring a suit to overturn the arbitration award in this case.

Before this court, Stahulak contends that he has standing to challenge the arbitration award in circuit court without the burden of proving that the Union breached its duty of fair representation in the underlying proceeding. According to Stahulak, the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (5 ILCS 315/1 et seq. (West 1996)) allows an individual employee to bring a grievance, compel arbitration, receive an award, and seek to vacate the award in circuit court.

The City and the other defendants disagree. They argue that Stahulak lacked standing to bring this suit based on sections 8 and 16 of the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act (Act) (5 ILCS 315/8, 16 (West 1996)). This argument is well taken. Section 16 of the Act provides:

"After the exhaustion of any arbitration mandated by this Act or any procedures mandated by a collective bargaining agreement, suits for violation of agreements *** between a public employer and a labor organization representing public employees may be brought by the parties to such agreement in the circuit court in the county in which the public employer transacts business or has its principal office." 5 ILCS 315/16 (West 1996).

Under the plain language of this statute, only the parties to a collective-bargaining agreement may attack an arbitration award in circuit court. Section 8 of the Act further specifies that "[t]he grievance and arbitration provisions of any collective bargaining agreement shall be subject to the Illinois 'Uniform Arbitration Act.' " 5 ILCS 315/8 (West 1996). The Uniform Arbitration Act, in turn, provides that: "[u]pon application of a party" a court shall consider vacating an arbitration award. 710 ILCS 5/12(a) (West 1996). Therefore, as under the Act, the Uniform Arbitration Act requires arbitration awards to be challenged in court by the parties to the collective-bargaining agreement.

Based on the foregoing provisions, we agree that because Stahulak is not a party to the agreement, he lacks standing to bring the suit at issue here. The principle that individual employees represented by a union cannot bring a suit to overturn the outcome of a grievance procedure or arbitration is further supported by Illinois case law. See Mahoney v. City of Chicago, 293 Ill. App. 3d 69, 73-74 (1997), Parks v. City of Evanston, 139 Ill. App. 3d 649, 652 (1985), Consentino v. Price, 136 Ill. App. 3d 490, 495 (1985). These cases hold that an individual union member is entitled to judicial review of grievance procedures or arbitration, only if the individual proves that the union's conduct in processing the grievance was arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith. Parks, 139 Ill. App. 3d at 652, Consentino, 136 Ill. App. 3d at 495.

Stahulak makes no allegations that his union breached its duty of fair representation in the underlying proceedings. Yet, he contends that he still had standing to attack the arbitration award in this case, claiming that it is not necessary to make such allegations against a union. Stahulak urges this court to follow Svoboda v. Department of Mental Health & Developmental Disabilities, 162 Ill. App. 3d 366 (1987), which held that individual employees have standing to bring suit to vacate an ...


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