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Inquiring minds really want to know

August 20th, 2015  |  David Stephanides

A recent arbitration hearing concerning the termination of a Minnesota state court employee surfaced what is hopefully not a disturbing trend among government workers – the misuse of government databases to uncover scandalous events. Though the employee’s termination was reduced to a 15-day suspension, the surrounding facts are illuminating.

A judicial branch internal audit revealed that employees at several judicial districts were misusing their access to a Driver and Vehicle Services database by looking up the records for celebrities, local officials, and family members; a violation of policy that could result in termination.

The audit identified 26 employees who had made suspicious lookups. The employer then administered discipline to those determined to have violated the policy, and it terminated the three employees with the highest number of violations. The employee with the highest number of alleged violations (approximately 1,410 questionable lookups) filed a grievance contesting her termination.

The arbitrator sustained the grievance in part and reduced her termination to a 15-day suspension. First, the practice of misusing the database was common in the workplace, and the penalty did not fit the violation. In essence, she was terminated for the act of looking up people for non-business reasons. She was a long-term employee with an unblemished record, and the arbitrator was convinced that she would not commit similar violations in the future.

In deciding the appropriate penalty, the arbitrator looked to an arbitration decision involving one of the other terminated employees, who had 478 inappropriate lookups. In that case, the arbitrator overturned the termination and assessed a 10-day suspension. AFSCME Council 65 and Minnesota Judicial Branch, Third Judicial District. June 1, 2015. Harley M. Ogata, Arbitrator.

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