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Miller Cohen Attorney Robert Fetter obtains a historic $5.5 million back pay award on behalf of four wrongfully terminated union members.

In a dispute which lasted nearly nine years, attorney Robert Fetter argued that four court officers, each a member of AFSCME Council 25 and its Local 917, were wrongfully terminated from 36th District Court real estate division between 2004 and 2007. "Normally, arbitration decisions regarding discharges occur six months to a year after the person's discharge," according to Fetter. "But you have to have a willing partner on the other side, which we just have not had in this situation," Fetter added. "It's gone through years of litigation without 36th District Court doing anything unless ordered to do so." Initially, the employer refused to arbitrate the case at all. The award was subsequent to Fetter's successful efforts before the Michigan Supreme Court which found that the arbitrator had the authority to award reinstatement and back pay.

Fetter succeeded at arbitrating for reinstatement back in 2009, however the employer next disputed the amount of back pay the reinstated grievants were entitled. The employer argued that only the grievants' W-2 incomes should be included in the back pay calculation and that all 1099 income should be disregarded. Notably, the bulk of court officers' income is compensated through 1099 pursuant to a set fee structure which is based on compensating the officers for each individual project they perform-typical projects include residential and commercial evictions. At one point, taking the financial state of the court in consideration, the grievants offered to resolve the matter for half the final award, but the court refused to negotiate. In the end, the arbitrator sided with Fetter and used the average yearly income of each employee based upon their yearly tax information-which included 1099 income arising from for the employees' eviction duties and awarded the employees a combined $5,528,156 in back pay plus interest. The award is one of the largest in the history of labor arbitration.

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Robert Fetter
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