McDonald v. City of West Branch, Michigan

RESPONDENT: City of West Branch, Michigan
LOCATION: Culpeper County Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 83-219
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 466 US 284 (1984)
ARGUED: Feb 27, 1984
DECIDED: Apr 18, 1984

David J. Achtenberg - on behalf of the Petitioner
Richard G. Smith - on behalf of the respondent
Richard W. Smith - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for McDonald v. City of West Branch, Michigan

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 27, 1984 in McDonald v. City of West Branch, Michigan

Warren E. Burger:

The case is submitted, and we'll hear arguments next in Ruckelshaus against Monsanto.

We will hear arguments next in McDonald against the City of West Branch.

Mr. Achtenberg, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

David J. Achtenberg:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

Gary McDonald brought this Section 1983 action to establish that his discharge violated his rights under the Constitution.

The issue before this Court is whether he should have been forbidden to do that because of a prior arbitration decision... a decision which did not deal with the constitutional issue, a decision by an arbitrator who was not presented with and did not decide the constitutional issue.

In Alexander v. Gardner-Denver and in Barrentine v. Arkansas-Best Freight this Court held that prior arbitration awards did not bar subsequent actions under the Fair Labor Standards Act and under Title VII.

And the issue before this Court today is whether there is some reason why a different rule should apply to Section 1983 cases.

McDonald was discharged after receiving and becoming involved in the presentation of certain citizen complaints against the chief of police.

These were complaints by members of the public.

As a police officer he had received from at least six different women complaints that the chief was involved in some form of sexual misconduct or sexual assault.

He passed these on to various city officials, and an investigation of the chief ensued.

The chief was unhappy about this and threatened McDonald and threatened one of the other officers.

He told McDonald on at least two occasions that he would have his job for starting the investigation.

This harassment culminated when McDonald set up a meeting where one of the complaining women was to present certain information to the mayor in her own words.

The chief walked into that meeting and threatened the woman, he threatened McDonald.

He again said that he would have McDonald's job for starting the investigation.

The very next day the chief announced to the city council that McDonald would be fired, and the actual firing took place the day after that.

McDonald proceeded to file a grievance under the grievance procedure provided in the collective bargaining agreement, but the grievance procedure and arbitration procedure which followed exemplified many of the problems which are involved in using arbitration in this sort of case.

McDonald was provided essentially no notice of the only charge which the arbitrator sustained against him... the charge of having committed a sexual assault on a minor female.

Until the alleged victim, Mrs. Dack, took the stand at arbitration, McDonald was never told who it was he was supposed to have assaulted, or when or where he was supposed to have assaulted her.

Did he ask for an adjournment to prepare to meet those charges?

David J. Achtenberg:


The attorney assigned to him by the union did not.

Well, does that bring up the subject of waiver possibly?

Because you're complaining about something now that he didn't object to then.

David J. Achtenberg:

I don't believe it can be said that he had not made the request on numerous occasions.

The question of whether he would have been entitled to a waiver under the contract is one that we have absolutely nothing in the record on.

Just as... and I think that that brings us to one of the other problems with using arbitration to resolve individual rights questions; and that is that McDonald did not control his own defense.

It was not his decision whether to ask for an adjournment or not.