A court’s review of a 3020-a award is very limited. The statute provides that the court may only review issues that go to the fundamental foundation of the award such as whether there was fraud or corruption or whether the arbitrator exceeded her lawful authority. Given the limit of review it is rare that 3020-a award will be modified or reversed.
Carlos Garcia taught at the High School of International Business and Finance. During the 2008 – 2009 school year he was accused, by the principal, of using inappropriate language with his students. The gravamen of the petition was that arbitrator Martin Schienman inappropriately utilized an interpreter as an expert witness to define the Spanish word, “coňo,” a word he allegedly directly at his students. Garcia argued that the meaning of the word ranged from an expletive to a familiar greeting depending upon the particular Spanish country or culture as well as the context it was used.
Sheinman, although rejected the DOE lawyer’s demand for Garcia’s termination found a violation of Chancellor’s Regulation 421-a and fined Garcia $15,000. Garcia appealed to the Supreme Court.
In analyzing Garcia’s argument Justice Jaffe utilized the Article 78 standard of arbitrary and capricious and was unpersuaded. She did find the fine to be excessive and lowered it $1,000.
3020-a hearing appeals are guided by Article 75 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules and not by Article 78. Had Jaffe used Article 75 instead of the less restrictive standard of Article 78 it is unclear whether she would have the authority to reduce the fine. There is currently no record of any appeal.