Board's finding that town retaliated against clerk upheld.


Byline: Correy E. Stephenson

The State Labor Relations Board correctly determined that the town of North Providence violated state law by retaliating against a clerk over her history of filing grievances, a Superior Court judge has ruled.

Judge Richard A. Licht found "ample" evidence to support the board's inference of retaliatory conduct against Elizabeth Iafrate, noting that he could not ignore the board's credibility determinations.

"In its Decision, the Board carefully explicated its reasoning behind its inferences and its evaluation of the credibility of the witnesses," Licht wrote. "In the presence of competent evidence to support the Board's reasoning, this Court may not overturn the Board's decision. Accordingly, this Court finds that there is reliable, probative and substantial evidence to support the Board's decision."

As for the town's alternative argument that the doctrine of the election of remedies required arbitration of the dispute because Iafrate filed a union grievance prior to her charge of unfair labor practices the judge found both procedural error and no substantive reason for the board not to adjudicate the charge despite the pendency of a grievance.

Cranston lawyer Gregory Piccirilli, who represented the clerk, did not respond to a request for comment. Vincent F. Ragosta of Providence, counsel for the town, said he has filed a notice of appeal.

"Ms. Iafrate has taken multiple bites at the apple and is continuing to pursue her challenge through the arbitration grievance machinery," he said, adding that with two parallel proceedings and the possibility of a contrary arbitration decision, the parties could face inconsistent adjudications.

"We are hopeful that the Rhode Island Supreme Court will take notice of this over-litigated situation," Ragotsa said.

The 19-page decision is Town of North Providence v. Iafrate, et al., Lawyers Weekly No. 61-104-18. The full text of the ruling can be found here.

Grievances and hearings

In 1988, Elizabeth Iafrate began her career with the town of North Providence as a clerk for the Board of Canvassers. As a town employee, she was a member of the Rhode Island Laborers District Council union. The relationship between the town and the union was governed by a collective bargaining agreement that provided the procedures for grievances arising from employment-related disputes, including arbitration.

Over the next few decades, Iafrate was transferred into different departments and promoted...

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