SHARONVILLE FIREFIGHTER REINSTATED
Local 4498 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, the labor organization that represents firefighters employed by the City of Sharonville, Ohio, has received a ruling by an arbitrator upholding the Local in connection with a termination grievance. The Local, represented by the law firm of Livorno and Arnett Co., LPA, filed a grievance challenging the City’s decision to fire a firefighter/paramedic.
On July 2, 2018, while utilizing the Sharonville Fire Department payroll document to compute the bi-weekly payroll for department employees, Fire Chief Kirk Mousa said he noticed a discrepancy generated by the Excel payroll document. Chief Mousa felt that some of the formulas utilized to calculate the payroll had been altered which amounted to approximately $40,000.00 in errors for that payroll period. After realizing the formulas had been altered, the Chief contacted the City’s IT Director, who began an investigation to determine how and when the file had been damaged. The IT Director decided the file had been sabotaged by a person inputting information into the leftmost computer in the report room at Station 86 between 6:45 a.m. and 7 a.m. on the morning of July 2, 2018.
One aspect of the City’s investigation was to interview each firefighter who had been assigned to or present at Station 86 during the period in question. Upon completion of the investigation, the City’s Human Resources Director, Noah Powers, determined that the Grievant must have been the individual who had corrupted the payroll document. The City of Sharonville terminated the Grievant on August 15, 2019, for violating the City’s Standards of Conduct and malicious damage to the Fire Department’s payroll document.
The evidence presented by the City at arbitration showed that a Sharonville Firefighter was logged into and active on the computer in question during the relevant time period on the morning of July 2, 2018, but that Firefighter was not the Grievant. However, the City attempted to justify their determination that the Grievant was responsible for the damage to the document by arguing that the Firefighter who was logged onto the computer had stepped away for a few minutes, and during this time the Grievant used that computer to quickly alter the document. The City attempted (and failed) to argue that the Grievant has the computer and technical “know how” to alter the document. Additionally, the City’s only evidence that could place the Grievant at that computer during the time in question was the testimony of another Firefighter who essentially may or may not have seen the Grievant in the report room during that time (but he testified the Grievant was not on the computer when he saw him). In short, the City was unable to produce any evidence whatsoever to prove the Grievant maliciously damaged the payroll document—not to mention that the Grievant did not benefit financially in any way from the alterations to the document.
The arbitrator’s ruling, which was received on April 6, 2020, upheld the Local’s belief that the City’s actions were invalid. In his decision, the arbitrator stated: As the Association notes, the contractual just cause standard prohibits the
discipline or discharge of employees except upon proof of just cause. In order to prove just cause, an employer must marshal sufficient credible evidence to substantiate an employee’s guilt of the offense with which he has been accused. Speculation or surmise can never serve as a substitute for competent evidence. In this case, the evidentiary record is inadequate to establish that the sabotage occurred in the manner which the City contends or that the Grievant could or did engage in malicious misconduct toward the City’s computer system. Because the City has failed to prove the validity of its accusations, the grievance must be sustained and appropriate remedial relief awarded in the Grievant’s favor.
The arbitrator did not find just cause for termination and reinstated the firefighter to his position with the City with back pay, seniority and benefits.