P-Fac files federal lawsuit against college

By Campus Editor

Columbia’s part-time faculty union has filed a federal lawsuit against the college alleging it breached its contractual duty by refusing to arbitrate grievances brought on behalf of former adjunct professor Mary Seyfarth and current adjunct professor Iymen Chehade.

In the complaint, filed Oct. 9 by P-Fac’s attorneys from Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan, Ltd., the union alleges the college violated its former and current contracts by refusing to participate in arbitration Sept. 29 and confirming that position Oct. 7 on grounds that requests were not made in  a timely fashion.

According to P-Fac’s current and previous agreements with the college, contract disputes can be resolved through arbitration between the two parties. Using arbitration is a final step of the grievance process, after unsuccessfully working through a dispute using informal and other

formal proceedings.

The grievances—in which the union alleges the college participated in discussions through 2015—were filed on behalf of Chehade, an adjunct professor in the Humanities, History & Social Sciences Department regarding the loss of a class and academic freedom and former adjunct professor Seyfarth regarding abrupt termination, which, according to the agreement, can only be done with “just cause.” 

“This particular contract breach—refusing to submit to arbitration—is outrageous as the funneling of disputes into arbitration is a bedrock principle of federal labor law,” the complaint states. 

The union alleges in the complaint that the refusal to arbitrate is happening at the same time Columbia has violated the National Labor Relations Act with acts including creating “unilateral changes” in contract terms and bargaining policies and untimely responses to

information requests. 

These and other allegations were cited in the union’s recent vote of no confidence, as reported Oct. 5 by The Chronicle. 

According to the document, P-Fac is asking for the college to comply with arbitration and award the union damages, both in the form of attorney fees and punitive damages that aim to “deter [the college] from such unlawful conduct in the future.”

Cara Birch, spokeswoman for the college, declined to comment on pending litigation.