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Vermont Guard-Lovers Barred From Working Same Shift

The Vermont Supreme Court upheld a Labor Relations Board (LRB) decision prohibiting a prison guard from working the same shift as her domestic partner.

Since 1999, Charles Cross has worked as a Correctional Facility Shift Supervisor (CFSS) at Vermont's Northwest State Correctional Facility (NWSCF). In June 2000, Mary Ellen Cole began work at NWSCF as a Correctional Officer I (COI I). Cross and Cole became domestic partners in 2001.

"Cross directly supervises employees designated as correctional officer II (C0I II)" who "in turn supervise" COI Is. "Both COI Is and COI IIs are 'subject to direction and supervision' from the CFSS on duty, and may receive performance feedback from the CFSS." In other words, if they were to work the same shift, Cross would be Cole's supervisor.

In the summer of 2003, Cole became eligible to bid for shifts and she bid the same shift as Cross. The request was denied due to the State's conflict of interest policy, which prevents relatives from supervising one another. Cole grieved the decision but withdrew the grievance before it was heard by the Board.

During the next shift-bidding cycle, Cole again bid to work the same shift as Cross. The request was again denied. She again filed a grievance, joined by Cross, but the LRB dismissed the grievance.

The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the LRB's decision. “If inmates were to become aware that a close relationship existed between two prison employees, they could manipulate one or both of the individuals, resulting in potential danger to the employees or other inmates.” the Court found. “Given the institutionalization of the State's conflict-of-interest policy, the important management policy justifying its enforcement, and the Board's finding that ‘the parties bargained with the knowledge that the conflicts of interest policy was applicable and no contract provision addressed the policy,’” the Court upheld “the Board's ‘practical construction’ of the instrument and reject(ed) grievants’ interpretation of the shift-bidding provision.” See: In re Grievance of Cole & Cross, 2008 VT 58, 2008 VT LEXIS 55 (2008).

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Related legal case

In re Grievance of Cole & Cross