Sunday, July 17, 2016

Arbitrator's reinstatement of employee terminated for violation of workplace violence policy not contrary to public policy

Grievant was employed by the University of Chicago Medical Center as a custodial assistant. A coworker of grievant reported to UCMC's HR department that on several occasions grievant had referred to his supervisor as a "bitch" and stated he wanted to choke or strangle her. After conducting an investigation, the Medical Center dismissed grievant. That action was submitted to arbitration for resolution.

The arbitrator concluded that grievant made the statements he was alleged to have made, but that these comments, while serious, did not warrant dismissal. He ordered the Medical Center to reinstate grievant without back pay.

The Medical Center sought to vacate the award, claiming that the reinstatement order was contrary to Illinois' public policy against violence in the workplace. It argued that if grievant were reinstated he may make similar statements in the future, or even act on threatening statements, and that other employees may be deterred from reporting threats or acts of violence.

The District Court rejected this effort. It noted:

These same arguments have been advanced by employers in other cases, and they have consistently been deemed insufficient to show that a grievant's reinstatement violates a public policy against workplace violence. Notably, UCMC has not cited a single case, and I have found none, in which a court has found the public policy against workplace violence to have been violated by an employee's reinstatement. Indeed, even in cases involving conduct ostensibly more threatening than [grievant's], courts have steadfastly refused to vacate arbitration awards based on public policy.

The Court observed that the arbitrator had, at least implicitly, made a determination that grievant would pose no threat to others if returned to work.

In light of the arbitrator's factual findings, and the narrow scope of the public policy exception, the Court denied the Medical Center's request to vacate and granted the Teamsters request to confirm

The opinion of the Court in University of Chicago Medical Center v. Int'l Brotherhood of Teamsters can be found here.

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