legal_mailbag_transparentOriginally appeared in the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. Written by Attorney Thomas B. Mooney.

Dear Legal Mailbag:

I was surprised the other day to receive a grievance from one of my teachers. This fellow is constantly complaining about this and that, and so I was not surprised that he would file a grievance. The surprise is that here we are in December and he is complaining about his assignment, an assignment that I gave him last June and that he has been doing since September. Frankly, I think that he filed his grievance just to get back at me because I sent a disciplinary letter last week to his girlfriend for missing her duty assignment.

At this point, I would like to write a scathing response, pointing out that the principal is the boss, and as such I get to tell people what to do. However, I don’t want to encourage his bad behavior, and maybe it will be best if I do not dignify his grievance with a response. Besides, aren’t disciplinary letters confidential? He shouldn’t even know that I wrote up his girlfriend.

Silence is Golden
Dear Silence:

Ignoring a grievance is never a good idea. Generally, contractual grievance procedures permit a grievant simply to move to the next step in the process when he or she does not receive a response within the specified time period. Moreover, you can be accused of not doing your job if you fail to respond to a grievance in a timely manner.

There are two more important reasons here why you should respond to this grievance. First, if the grievant proceeds to the next level, your response (or failure to respond) will be part of the “grievance trail,” i.e. the grievance, response, appeals, and further responses. By addressing the grievance promptly, you have the chance to demonstrate to the superintendent, the board and, ultimately, the arbitrator that you know what you are doing; and, they may even agree with you.

Second, your response will permit you to raise the issue of timeliness at the outset. Grievance procedures are designed to resolve disputes promptly; and, typically, a grievance must be filed within a stated period of the time that the grievant knew or reasonably should have known about the alleged contract violation or the grievance will be considered waived. Given that you informed this teacher of his assignment last June, presumably he is way late with his grievance, and your response should note that the grievance is late and is thus waived. Conversely, if you don’t raise the issue of timeliness, you can be accused of waiving that objection yourself. Accordingly, before addressing the merits of the grievance, your response should note that the grievance is untimely and that you are denying it on that basis as well.

Finally, what are you thinking? Of course the man knows you wrote up his girlfriend. People talk. Moreover, whenever you write a disciplinary letter, you are creating a public record, and you should know that such letters are not confidential.

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