Monday, January 28, 2013

Arbitrator erred in reading discipline limitation into contract

The U.S. District Court in Missouri has vacated an award issued by Arbitrator Michael Hill. Teamsters Local Union No. 688 v. Meridian Medical Technologies.

The dispute involved the dismissal of grievant by Meridian Medical Technologies. The cba provided that, except for a defined list of offenses, no employee would be dismissed without having first received a warning notice. The cba also provided that a warning notice would not remain in effect for more than 12 months. Separately, Meridian's personnel policy regarding Progressive Discipline called for a four step process, including a Record of Counseling, an Employee Warning Record, Probation, and ultimately termination.

Grievant had received a Record of Counseling in December of 2009. He received a written warning on November 22, 2010, another written warning and probation in April of 2011, and his employment was terminated on June 14, 2011.

Arbitrator Hill concluded that, considering the cba and the personnel policy together, a Record of Counseling fell within the definition of a written warning notice, and that in any event all 4 steps of the disciplinary process must occur during a 12 month period. Since he found only three steps had been utilized during the 12 month period he overturned the dismissal.

Meridian sought to set aside the award, and the District Court agreed. Vacating the award, the Court determined:

In this case, it is undisputed that Meridian issued all four steps of discipline to [Grievant] before his termination. It is also undisputed that [Grievant] received not only one, but two, written warning notices — one employee warning record on November 22, 2010, and one warning coupled with probation on April 7, 2011 — within the twelve-month period before his termination on June 14, 2011. The language in the CBA and Personnel Administrative Note #59 is unambiguous, and says nothing about requiring all four steps to be taken in a single twelve-month period. At most, when these documents are read together, they unambiguously require that Meridian follow its four steps of discipline before discharging an employee, and that the employee receive at least one of those written warning notices within twelve months of his or her termination. These requirements were satisfied by Meridian in this case.
Arbitrator Hill's conclusion that the four disciplinary steps must occur within twelve months was impermissible because he "was not construing an ambiguous contract term, but rather was imposing a new obligation upon [Meridian]. ..." Keebler Co. v. Milk Drivers & Dairy Emps. Union, Local No. 471,
80 F.3d 284, 288 (8th Cir. 1996). The parties' agreement simply does not allow for this interpretation. I conclude that the arbitrator's determination that the four steps in Personnel Administrative Note #59 must be performed within twelve months does not draw its essence from the parties' CBA.

No comments:

Post a Comment