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Reno/Tahoe Police Sergeants Win Appeal

Posted on Monday, April 01, 2002 at 12:00PM
Posted by Michael Langton Sgt. Barry Roseman

On January 3, 2002, a Carson City, Nevada District Court denied a petition for judicial review filed by the Airport Authority of Washoe County (AAWC) regarding the termination of two police sergeants. District Court Judge Mike Griffin ruled the decision of the Employee Management Relations Board (EMRB), issued in January 2001, was made upon substantial evidence and not in violation of the law as the AAWC contended. This article is a follow-up to an article written in PORAC Law Enforcement News in the March 2001 issue.

In September 1998, all three sergeants petitioned the AAWC for recognition of the Reno/Tahoe Airport Police Supervisors Association (R/TAPSA) as the exclusive bargaining representative. The sergeants wanted this recognition in order to have membership in PORAN and the protection of the Legal Defense Fund. During the petition meeting in November 1998, several comments were made by airport trustees expressing their unhappiness over this supervisory association forming. One trustee commented, “There’s a price to pay when employees choose to unionize instead of working with management.” Nevertheless, the sergeants’ association was given recognition and the association demanded that negotiations begin immediately. The sergeants thought their offer to adopt the agreement of the police officers would be accepted, as no money issues would be involved. However, the AAWC refused to meet for negotiations, dodging all demands to do so. Then, on December 31, 1998, and before contract negotiations began, the association’s president and co-author of this article, Barry Roseman, and vice-president, Frank Fowler, were anonymously accused of cheating on their timecards. It was later determined that the third sergeant has made the anonymous complaint and had unwittingly submitted the complaint before the event even occurred.

Although the sergeants had been told they were doing a good job and had excellent performance reviews, they were not advised about or asked about the accusation. Instead, the AAWC requested an investigation be conducted by an outside agency, the Nevada Division of Investigation (NDI). In the meantime, the AAWC had continued to stall negotiations for a contract, despite repeated demands to begin them. The investigation began in March, when Roseman and Fowler were finally given notice of the allegation. Per Nevada’s Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights, notice was given to both sergeants, stating the investigation would only concern the alleged mismarked timecards. Both sergeants were interviewed concerning the timecard issues only. However, even though the NDI investigator found the timecard charges unsubstantiated, he went well beyond that charge and “found” the pair had committed numerous uncharged allegations. Neither sergeant had been questioned about, nor informed of the other “allegations”, and until receiving a copy of the investigative findings in June 1999, were unaware the charges even existed. At the pretermination “hearing”, their attorney objected to the uncharged violations being used as a basis for discipline and demanded the AAWC comply with the Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights. Not to be bound by “silly” law, the AAWC proceeded to terminate both sergeants and then refused to negotiate with the association, claiming one had to be an employee of the AAWC before negotiations could begin (The AAWC also claimed the third sergeant had not designated the president or vice-president as his representative). An unfair labor practice complaint was filed with the EMRB, alleging bad faith by the airport in refusing to negotiate and claiming the discharges were pre-textual and calculated to dissuade the formation of the supervisors’ association.

On January 30, 2001, the EMRB issued its decision, finding in favor of the association on all allegations and ordered sergeants Roseman and Fowler be reinstated with full back pay and benefits, including interest and attorney’s fees. The board also ordered the airport executive director, who had approved the discharges, to sign and post a letter acknowledging that the sergeants were terminated unlawfully, and that the airport would cease committing prohibited practices against R/TAPSA. The airport refused to do so, and appealed the EMRB’s decision, which Judge Griffin upheld on January 3, 2002. Hopefully, the AAWC will see the light and abide by the board’s order.

Both sergeants look forward to returning to work and continuing their careers. Roseman currently has 22 years law enforcement experience; Fowler has 19 ½ years. Roseman stated, “It’s amazing how your life is going along great and all of a sudden you step on someone’s toes and things change in a big hurry. If we hadn’t joined PORAN/LDF before we were fired, I would have had a decision to make regarding fighting this unlawful termination or just living with it. Thankfully, PORAN helped by assigning us a top Reno personnel law attorney, Michael Langton. They were there during the entire process. Again, thanks PORAN/LDF for being there.”

PORAC Legal Defense Administrator Ed Fishman Testimony: Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras.