City of Springfield Wrongfully Terminates Assessor II for Second Time
Posted On: Feb 11, 2022
SPRINGFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS - The United Public Service Employees Union (“UPSEU”), who represents approximately 150 municipal employees throughout the City of Springfield, continues its winning streak against the City on behalf of its members.
It was only just over one year ago that UPSEU prevailed in a grievance arbitration against the City for wrongfully terminating a long time Springfield employee, and former Union president, Timothy Woodward, resulting in Mr. Woodward being reinstated to his position with full back pay and restoration of all benefits. However, instead of learning from that experience, the City decided to take another crack at it and only a month and a half after Mr. Woodward was returned to work, the City terminated him again, on May 27, 2021, for what it alleged was inappropriate conduct in the workplace.
Upon Mr. Woodward’s return to work on January 4, 2021, after winning his first termination case, the City immediately moved his work location and set conditions on and made changes to his employment to which he had not previously been subjected. However, when it became clear that the new space in which Mr. Woodward was expected to work was also being used as a training classroom for various City employees without any privacy or partitioned off workspace to separate him and his workspace from the training and trainees, Mr. Woodward objected. He reached out to both his supervisor and the City’s Director of Human Resources and Labor Relations on multiple occasions and raised valid security concerns, as well as health and safety concerns over others being in his working space and having access to his computer during the time of a global pandemic. After the City failed to address Mr. Woodward’s concerns, and after finding, for the third day in a row, a trainee sitting at his workstation and on his computer, Mr. Woodward became visibly upset and verbally expressed his frustration with how he was being treated by the City. It was for this reason, the City put Mr. Woodward on paid administrative leave until ultimately terminating his employment again on May 27, 2021.
With the City’s second termination of Mr. Woodward appearing to his Union to be nothing more than the City’s continued campaign to get rid of Mr. Woodward and to retaliate against him for successfully challenging his previous termination, UPSEU immediately filed a grievance. The Springfield Municipal Employee’s bargaining unit UPSEU Labor Relations Representative Roger Stolen explained, “We felt that the City was setting [Mr. Woodward] up for failure from the day he returned to work after winning his previous termination case and that we had a very strong case for this second wrongful termination too. We wanted to send a clear message to the City that UPSEU will not stand for harassment and unjust termination of our members and that we will stand up and fight the City each and every time they try it.”
With the City refusing to grant the grievance and bring Mr. Woodward back to work, a formal arbitration hearing took place on November 9, 2021, and the issue before the arbitrator was identified as “Was there just cause for the termination of Timothy Woodward? If not, what shall the remedy be?” During the hearing both parties were represented by counsel, submitted evidence and offered witness testimony. The parties were then given an opportunity to submit respective post hearing briefs in further support of their respective positions.
When Arbitrator Lawrence T. Holden, Jr.’s decision was issued on February 3, 2022, it was a relief, yet unsurprising to Mr. Woodward and UPSEU that he found the grievant was, in no uncertain terms, terminated unjustly. In the award he issued, Arbitrator Holden stated, “The Employer must bear responsibility for the conditions it created and for its failure to take action once apprised of the circumstances; the Employer cannot abdicate its responsibilities, avoid accountability, and place all the blame upon the grievant. Thus, this discharge cannot be allowed to stand.” As a result, the City was once again ordered to rescind Mr. Woodward’s termination and to reinstate him to his position of employment with full back pay and benefits.
Attorney Chelsea K. Choi, outside legal counsel for UPSEU, did an outstanding job of outlining the events leading up to Mr. Woodward’s termination and the City’s lack of just cause for his second termination. In response to the arbitrator’s decision and Mr. Woodward winning his job back, Attorney Choi had this to say, “As a labor union and labor attorneys, it is our job to zealously advocate for our clients, especially those experiencing the psychological and social impact of the pandemic. Special thanks to those willing to look at, listen to, and review the case to ensure that justice was done, and a man’s livelihood was not unfairly taken away.”
While Mr. Woodward has spent the better part of two years embroiled in legal action with the City in an effort to retain his job, the final outcomes in both termination cases, which corrected what the City got wrong in both instances from the start, made it all worthwhile. With the help of UPSEU and their professional outside legal counsel at Connor & Morneau, LLP, Mr. Woodward has prevailed against the City a second time and will once again be made whole.
Needless to say, Mr. Woodward, as well as the bargaining unit’s local president, Sylvia Cotton, were thrilled with the result in this case and the fact that UPSEU was there every step of the way. Mr. Woodward said “I feel vindicated once again and very grateful that the arbitrator found in my favor. I will not tolerate being harassed and let the City run me out of my job and I’m grateful to UPSEU and its never-ending advocacy on my behalf.” Ms. Cotton concurred and said, “As the Unit President for the past seven years, I am very pleased that once again UPSEU proves to represent their members to the fullest extent of the contract. Not only did we win a wrongful termination arbitration case again, but twice for the same member! I just want to thank our legal counsel John Connor and Chelsea Choi and our UPSEU Labor Relations Representative, Roger Stolen, who helped make this case a success.”