Tipp City Edn. Assn. v. Tipp City Exempted Village School Dist. Bd. of Edn., 2023-Ohio-4000

 After a district issued an unpaid suspension to a teacher following several parental complaints, the Tipp City Education Association (TCEA) filed a grievance alleging that the district violated the collective bargaining agreement. The TCEA alleged that the district violated the agreement when it failed to encourage the parents to first discuss their complaints with the teacher, disciplining the teacher without good and just cause, and then failing to discipline in a progressive manner. The district and the TCEA proceeded through the grievance process, however they were unable to resolve the issue. Unlike the typical collective bargaining agreement that concludes the grievance process with binding arbitration, the agreement in this case provided that a grievant “may seek resolution through legal options.” As a result, the TCEA filed their complaint in the trial court. The school district argued that the complaint was improper because the court lacked jurisdiction, and that these claims fall exclusively under SERB’s jurisdiction.

 The 2nd Appellate District noted that there are two general areas in which SERB has exclusive jurisdiction to resolve unfair labor practice charges: 1. Where the parties file charges with SERB alleging an unfair labor practice; and 2. Where a complaint brought before the common pleas court alleges conduct that constitutes an unfair labor practice. Otherwise, under the Ohio Revised Code Section 4117.09(b)(1) a party may bring a suit for violation of a CBA in the court of common pleas. The 2nd District specifically noted that “nowhere in the Revised Code does the general assembly assign SERB exclusive jurisdiction over all issues touching on that chapter’s provisions.” Moreover, the Supreme Court of Ohio has expressly acknowledged that a plaintiff may bring a claim in common pleas court when that claim exists independently of the revised code, even if the claim may touch on the collective bargaining relationship.

 The court concluded by stating that in determining whether SERB has exclusive jurisdiction over a claim, the test is whether the claim is arising from or depends on the collective bargaining rights created by RC 4117, rather than the collective bargaining agreement.

 What does this mean for your district? If a party advances claims to a common pleas court and that claim arises from or depends on CBA rights created by the Revised Code, SERB has exclusive, original jurisdiction. However, if the party advances claims that are independent of the Revised Code and your collective bargaining agreement does not mandate binding arbitration, the case may proceed in common pleas court.