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In an important case on the scope of a school board’s obligation to arbitrate grievances, the Illinois Supreme Court recently ruled that the Chicago Board of Education was not required to arbitrate disputes over its probationary teacher do-not-hire policy.

The case, Board of Education of the City of Chicago v. Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, 2015 IL 118043, involved a new board policy that declared ineligible for rehire in Chicago schools probationary teachers who were non-renewed twice or who were non-renewed with an unsatisfactory evaluation rating. A “do-not-hire” letter was placed in the personnel file of such teachers.

Four grievances were filed over the do-not-hire policy, and the board refused to submit them to arbitration. Because the policy related to its hiring decisions, which were exclusive management rights, the board argued it was not required to arbitrate the grievances. The union filed an unfair labor practice charge due to the board’s refusal to arbitrate. The IELRB found in the union’s favor, but the appellate court reversed. The parties then appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Despite an unusually broad grievance definition in the collective bargaining agreement, the Supreme Court concluded that the do-not-hire grievances do not relate to terms and conditions of employment, but rather relate to the board’s ability to initiate employment.

Because the collective bargaining agreement excluded from the bargaining process matters of inherent managerial authority, including the “selection of new employees,” the board was not required to arbitrate.

Even if the collective bargaining agreement had required do-not-hire decisions to be arbitrated, the Supreme Court ruled that such a requirement would be inarbitrable because it would violate or conflict with Illinois law.

Specifically, restricting the board’s authority to designate non-renewed probationary teachers as ineligible for rehire would conflict with the managerial rights provision in the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act and the teacher dismissal provisions in the Illinois School Code. In so ruling, the Supreme Court reiterated that school boards cannot delegate their discretionary authority to non-renew probationary teachers.

The Supreme Court’s ruling reinforces the importance of strong management rights clauses, narrow grievance definitions, and the limitations on school boards’ ability to delegate away their authority to dismiss teachers.

To discuss your labor relations needs or the impact of this case on your district, contact Cindi DeCola or Jeff Goelitz.