Header, the Administration of the Honorable Lincoln C. Almond
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August 7, 1996

TO THE HONORABLE, THE SENATE:

In accordance with the provisions of R.I. Gen. Laws § 43-1-4, I am transmitting, herewith, with my disapproval, 96-S-2811, "An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations Fair Employment Practice."

Under this Act, the Commission for Human Rights (the "Commission") would no longer be required to consider as binding findings of fact and conclusions of law made by other state administrative agencies unless such determinations have been affirmed by a court. The Act also would allow the Commission to consider claims on matters which could have been, but were not, actually presented to and decided by another state agency. And, to the extent that the Commission is bound by the findings of another agency which have been affirmed by a court, the Act authorizes the Commission to grant relief to the extent that such relief cannot be provided by the other agency.

This Act is designed largely to reverse the result of a recent Rhode Island Supreme Court decision holding that the findings of one administrative agency are binding on another considering the same issue. Department of Corrections v. Tucker, 657 A.2d 546 (R.I. 1995). In Tucker, an ACI guard brought complaints of discrimination in connection with his termination both to the Personnel Appeals Board ("PAB") and to the Commission. The Department of Corrections requested that the Commission abstain from hearing the case since the same matter was pending before the PAB. The Commission refused, believing that the pending appeal before the PAB did not preclude it from hearing the same issue. Eventually, the PAB and the Commission came to inconsistent conclusions, with the PAB first dismissing the complaint and the Commission later ordering the guard to be reinstated. Ultimately, the Rhode Island Supreme Court, applying the doctrine of res judicata, found that the Commission was bound by the findings of fact and conclusions of law already arrived at by the PAB.

The Commission urges support of this legislation because it has special expertise in hearing and resolving discrimination claims and that, wherever possible, its expertise should be used to hear and resolve such claims. I agree and have allowed to become law several other bills supported by the Commission this year which are designed to assist the Commission in its deliberative process. I also agree with the Commission that persons who do not bring their discrimination claims before other state agencies so that they can be heard by the Commission should not be penalized.

I must oppose the current legislation, however, because it would allow persons who litigate discrimination claims before other state agencies and lose to obtain another "bite at the apple" on the same claim before the Commission. In other words, a plaintiff could first bring a discrimination claim before another quasi-judicial body with jurisdiction and not be bound by an adverse ruling.

The inconsistent results achieved by the state agencies in the Tucker case demonstrate the importance of giving agency decisions, like those of a court, preclusive effect. Moreover, the application of the doctrine of res judicata to agency decisions prevents parties from getting more than one "bite at the apple" and promotes administrative as well as judicial economy and finality. Since this bill would permit one state agency to reopen and reexamine findings of fact and conclusions of law already arrived at by another agency of competent jurisdiction, it would undermine these important principles of economy and finality. Moreover, no other state agency enjoys this power. In sum, there is no persuasive reason to reverse the Supreme Court's ruling in Tucker.

For the foregoing reasons, I disapprove of this legislation and respectfully urge your support of this veto.


Sincerely,

Lincoln Almond
Governor