Arbitrator ignored Last Chance Agreement – Award vacated
The Sixth Circuit has affirmed a District Court decision vacating an award of Arbitrator John M. Felice. Tecnocap, LLC v. Graphic Communications Conference/International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 24M Grievant was terminated after an absence caused by his car breaking down. Relying on a last chance agreement entered into by grievant and the Union, the employer terminated his employment. While acknowledging the LCA, the Arbitrator concluded:
The fundamental principle underlying the discharge of an employee is that management must have just cause for imposing the discharge. The Company in the instant case appears to be applying its Policy in a punitive fashion. Simply because an employee is absent a specific number of times and accumulates a certain number of points does not, ipso facto provide for automatic discharge. No policy can vitiate the right of the Union to challenge whether the cause asserted for discharge is just under the CBA. To recognize such a policy through arbitration would be unreasonable since it would contravene the express intent and purpose of establishing and specifying cause for discharge under a labor agreement.
Finding that the Company had failed to meet the “fundamental indicia of just cause,” the Arbitrator sustained the grievance and ordered the grievant’s reinstatement with back pay.
The Company sought to have the award vacated and the District Court did so. here The Court concluded that the Arbitrator had exceeded his authority by ignoring the last chance agreement.
The Sixth Circuit (2-1) affirmed. It noted:
… an LCA is an agreed-upon predetermination of “just cause.” It is a concession by the employee (and the union) that the employer already had “just cause” to discipline the employee, who is thereafter on the grace of one “last chance” in exchange for a promise of compliance, the violation of which all three agree will be “just cause” for immediate discipline. … The employee is given ‘one last chance’ to correct his errant behavior, in exchange for which he agrees to certain conditions[,] . . . [the] failure to live up to [which] is [almost always] grounds for immediate dismissal, without the opportunity to file a grievance. . . .”). By signing the LCA in this case, both Witherow and the Union agreed that if Witherow had an unexcused absence in the next eight months, Tecnocap would have “just cause” to fire him.
Concluding that the LCA was an “agreed-upon predetermination of just cause” the Court affirmed the decision of the lower court.
Last chance agreements are also discussed in Last Chance Agreements- Arbitrability of triggering event
Arbitrator’s reliance on “substantive due process” beyond the provisions of the cba, award vacated
The District Court in Kentucky vacated an award of Arbitrator Stephen L. Hayford reinstating an employee terminated pursuant to the employer’s no fault attendance policy. Zeon Chemicals, L.P v. United Food and Commercial Works, Local 72D
Grievant’s final absence resulted from his 30 day incarceration because of a plea to two charges of battery in connection with an off duty incident. That absence put him at the point of termination pursuant to the employer’s policy. The Union grieved, arguing, inter alia, that the employer had the discretion under the policy to impose a thirty day suspension but refused to do so. The policy provided that, if an employee has 20 or more years of service “The Company may, at its discretion, impose a 30-day suspensions as an alternative to termination … ” While acknowledging that grievant’s accumulation of points under the employer’s policy created prima facia proof that his discharge was for just cause, the Arbitrator concluded that other factors militated against termination. In particular he noted:
The substantive due process element of the contractual just cause standard contemplates that in this type of highly unusual situation, before terminating an employee under the ACP the Company will fully investigate the circumstances that led to the employee’s exceeding the 12 points total termination threshold of the Policy’s progressive discipline procedure. This is especially imperative when the precipitating absences of an employee are due to off-duty misconduct that involves a felony criminal offense indicating moral turpitude on the employee’s part. The Company’s choosing not to investigate the events of July 15, 2015, that eventually resulted in [grievant’s] being absent from the workplace … was a serious omission on its part that arrived [grievant’s] contractual right to substantive due process. It is a significant mitigating factor.
The Arbitrator reduced the termination to a 30 day suspension.
The District Court granted the Company’s request to vacate the award. Rejecting the Arbitrator’s reliance on the concept of “substantive due process” the Court concluded:
With this, it appears that the Arbitrator was not engaged in legitimate interpretation of the CBA, but referenced substantive due process solely to “dispense his own brand of industrial justice” in contravention of the explicit terms of the CBA. United Transp., 700 F.3d at 902 (citation omitted); see Mich. Family, 475 F.3d at 753. By employing the “interpolative reasoning underlying substantive due process,” the Arbitrator effectively imposed upon the Company additional requirements found nowhere in the language of the CBA. The Arbitrator in this instance conflated the “just cause” language from Article III with the terms of the ACP to fashion a new requirement that the Company conduct an investigation into the facts surrounding an employee’s accumulation of 12 points under the ACP. (Arbitration Award 21). Moreover, the Arbitrator essentially fashioned an additional subjective condition by requiring the Company “to make a full, fair and informed determination of whether exercise of its discretion to impose a suspension” and then held the Company failed in this regard, although the CBA explicitly leaves this determination to the Company’s discretion and Jenkins never requested that he be suspended. (Arbitration Award 22). By the CBA’s own explicit language, this provision of the ACP affords the Company the right to terminate any employee who exceeds 12 points under the attendance policy.
Jury verdict finding excessive force insufficient to support termination
Arbitrator Peter R. Meyers overturned the termination of an Oak Park, Illinois police officer who had been dismissed for several alleged offense, most seriously the use of excessive force during his handling of a domestic violence call. Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council and Village of Oak Park, Illinois.
An individual arrested and charged with domestic violence subsequently sued the Village and grievant, alleging grievant had used unnecessary and excessive force during the arrest. A jury returned a verdict for plaintiff for $35,000. As a result of the verdict, the Chief ordered an investigation of the underlying incident. That investigation did not support a finding of excessive force, but did reveal what were alleged to be grievant’s failure to have submitted a use of force form, failure to properly secure evidence, and failure to provide the victim with paperwork required by the Illinois Domestic Violence Act. Based on a review of transcripts in both the criminal trial for domestic violence and the civil case, the Village also concluded that “grievant had given untruthful testimony” that ‘almost probably’ met the standard of perjury under Illinois law.
Despite the initial conclusion that the evidence did not support a charge of use of excessive force, the Notice of Termination included this allegation as one of charges supporting grievant’s ultimate termination.
Officer’s use of force not unreasonable, Chief’s subjective evaluation not supported by objective analysis
Arbitrator Daniel Saling upheld a grievance filed on behalf of a Tallahassee, FL police officer dismissed following an Internal Affairs investigation into a shooting incident. Florida Police Benevolent Association and City of Tallahassee The facts were largely undisputed. While on patrol, grievant had pulled behind what he believed to be a suspicious vehicle. The Arbitrator summarized what happened next:
On March 17, 2017, the Grievant was checking on a suspicious vehicle in a parking lot in front of a city owned building. When the Grievant got out of his marked patrol vehicle to speak with the occupant in the suspicious vehicle, the suspicious vehicle was placed in reverse and struck the Grievant’s patrol vehicle, which then stuck the Grievant. The Grievant was without backup in a deserted parking lot and he drew his firearm and fired six shots into the driver side of the suspect’s vehicle.
The vehicle left the area and was chased by Sheriff’s Deputies.
The Chief assigned the Department of Internal Affairs to conduct an investigation into grievant’s actions during the incident. The initial report from IA found grievant’s use of force reasonable. The Chief review that report and questioned the decision because it did not address the issue of “imminent danger” as set forth in the Department’s Policy. That Policy provides “Officers may use deadly force only when they believe it is objectively reasonable to defend their life or the life of another person from imminent threat of great bodily harm or death.” The IA investigator rewrote there report, changing the conclusion, and finding that grievant had not used reasonable force. Grievant’s employment was terminated, and the dispute was grieved and ultimately submitted to Arbitrator Saking for resolution.
Upholding the grievance, Arbitrator Saling concluded that grievant in fact “reasonably and objectively determined” that he was in imminent danger. Rejecting the conclusion of the modified finding he found:
The investigation by the lA Investigator was completed and there was a decision that the Grievant’s conduct on the date of the incident, was within the provision of General Order 60, but the decision was changed when Chief DeLeo met with the lA Investigator and indicated that he subjectively did not believe the Grievant was in imminent danger. Chief DeLeo subjective evaluation of the incident is not supported by an objective analysis of the facts surrounding the incident.