A judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has rejected a medical center’s efforts to vacate an arbitration award as contrary to the “law of the shop.” Crozer-Chester Medical Center v. Crozer-Chester Nurses Association. Crozer-Chester Medical Center had terminated Grievant for her failure to use its wireless system that records patients’ vital signs and transmits them to all nurses working on the floor. Grievant had failed to resume the monitor after taking the patient for testing. Shortly thereafter, the patient stopped breathing and subsequently died. While the failure to resume the monitoring equipment did not cause the patient’s death it did prevent the patient’s cardiologist from ascertaining the precise cause of death. The medical center dismissed the employee.
The applicable cba provided that the medical center could discipline employees for just cause and also indicated that disciplinary action is “usually, but not necessarily, progressive in nature.”
The arbitrator concluded that both Crozer and the Union agreed there was “cause” since the Grievant did not reactivate the monitoring equipment as she was supposed to do. However, the remaining issue was whether the dismissal was “just.” The term “just cause” was not defined in the contract and the arbitrator rephrased the issue as whether the dismissal was proportionate in light of the nature of the infraction and the Grievant’s past record. Concluding that it was not, the Arbitrator reduced the discipline to a five day suspension.
In seeking to vacate the award, the Medical Center argued, inter alia, that the arbitrator had imposed his own heightened standard of “deliberate insubordination” for the agreed upon just cause standard, and that since the Grievant had been suspended within the past twelve months the proper level of discipline was termination. It maintained that the arbitrator had violated the “law of the shop”, i.e. the Medical Center’s normal employer disciplinary practices, in modifying the discipline.
Rejecting these arguments the Court noted:
The CBA does not define the phrase “just cause.” The fact that Crozer disagrees with the Arbitrator’s interpretation is “not grounds for vacating the decision.” …Crozer could have defined “just cause” specifically in the CBA or negotiated for a definition of “just cause,” but it did not.
The court also rejected Crozer’s law of the shop claim, noting “if the ‘law of the shop’ foreclosed nothing short of termination in this case, appealing to an impartial arbitrator to determine if Crozer discharged the Grievant for ‘just cause’ would have been a pointless exercise”
The Court granted the Union’s cross motion to enforce the award.