Sunday, August 13, 2017

Quick Hits - Deferral, neutrality, "flagrant misconduct" and excessive force

Court upholds NLRB’s refusal to defer to arbitrator

The Eight Circuit has affirmed an NLRB decision (available here) refusing to defer to an arbitrator’s award (here).  Cooper Tire had dismissed Anthony Runnion for his conduct on a picket line. Runnion had shouted racially charged comments to individuals crossing the picket line. Arbitrator Roger Williams upheld the termination, finding the conduct “. . . would have been serious misconduct in any context, but in the context of the picket line, where there was a genuine possibility of violence, his comments were even more serious.”  The Board concurred with the ALJ, finding the award “clearly repugnant” to the NLRA. Enforcing the Board’s decision, the Circuit Court rejected Cooper’s contention that the arbitrator’s finding of just cause demonstrated that the employee had been dismissed for “cause" within the meaning of the NLRA, and concluded that the Board acted within its discretion in refusing to defer to the award. Dissenting, Judge Beam would have “peremptorily reversed” the Board, noting:

When the Board unleashed its "repugnant to the purposes and policies of the Act" mandate in derogation of the arbitrator's rulings, it mentions not a single word of legislative language. That is understandable because there is none. Such purposes and policies are wholly of the Board's fabrication, done so to undergird, presumably, any whim and caprice that the Board may want to employ in arriving at its various conclusions. 

The Court’s opinion, and Judge Beam’s dissent, can be found here.

Arbitrability of neutrality dispute to be decided by arbitrator, not court

UNITE HERE and Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians were parties to a neutrality agreement concerning union organizing at the tribe’s Red Hawk Casino. The agreement provided for arbitration of disputes over “the interpretation and application” of the agreement. When two employees were dismissed, UNITE HERE sought to arbitrate their terminations, asserting that they had been dismissed because of the organizing activities in violation of the neutrality agreement. Refusing to arbitrate, the Tribe sought declaratory relief in the District Court. The Union sought an order compelling arbitration. 

Relying largely on the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Desert Palace, the District Court granted the Union’s request and ordered arbitration. On the arbitrability question the Court held:

Like the arbitration clause in Desert Palace, Section 10 of the MOA provides for arbitration of "any disputes over the interpretation or application of" the MOA (except for unresolved disputes regarding collective bargaining negotiations, which are not relevant here). (ECF No. 2 Ex. A at 7.) Thus, the parties have reserved for the arbitrator the question of arbitrability. The Court is "divested of [its] authority and [the] arbitrator will decide in the first instance whether [this] dispute is arbitrable." Desert Palace, 94 F.3d at 1310.

The Court dismissed the tribe's request for declaratory relief.

The Court’s opinions can be found here and here.

Court finds arbitrator’s award "clearly contrary" to the weight of the evidence, upholds termination 

The MO Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s refusal to enforce an arbitrator’s award reinstating an Assistant County Prosecutor accused of misleading the court and failing to meet his discovery obligations. International Association of Firefighters, Local 42 v. Jackson County  In overturning the termination, the arbitrator found that while grievant had committed “very serious” misconduct, termination was too severe because of the absence of any prior discipline and what he found was an “anything goes” atmosphere in the prosecutor’s office.

 After the award, and as allowed under the parties cba, the County Prosecutor and County Executive reviewed and reversed the award and upheld the termination. Affirming that decision the Court concluded:

When Mitchell intentionally and repeatedly lied to the court, he violated fundamental and obvious standards of professional conduct. Mitchell's misconduct was a "self-evident case[ ] of exceptional severity"; under the arbitrator's own analysis, progressive discipline and notice requirements were inapplicable to this egregious misconduct. The history of prior attorney discipline — or lack of discipline — in the Prosecutor's Office to which the arbitrator referred was insufficient to absolve Mitchell of responsibility for his flagrant misconduct, or immunize him from the appropriate consequences for that misconduct.
Given the arbitrator's findings that Mitchell intentionally and repeatedly lied to the court, his conclusion that Mitchell's immediate discharge was unwarranted was "clearly contrary to the weight of the evidence, viewed in its entirety." The Prosecuting Attorney and County Executive acted within their authority under Article VI, § 3(C) of the collective bargaining agreement in modifying the arbitrator's decision, and reinstating Mitchell's discharge.

Update: The Court of Appeals has issued a similar ruling involving another prosecutor International Association of Firefighters, Local Union No. 42 v. Jackson County

Correction Officer used excessive force, but termination too severe

  A Cuyahoga County Corrections Officer was dismissed for allegedly using excessive force against inmates on two separate occasions.  Arbitrator Robert Stein concluded that in the first incident there were mitigating factors that explained, but did not excuse, the officer's conduct. Regarding the second incident, occurring two days later, Arbitrator Stein found grievant's use of force "clearly excessive" and found that grievant had unnecessarily escalated the situation. Reviewing grievant's prior history the Arbitrator noted that while  a prior incident in which grievant had used uneccesary force raised a question of whether progressive discipline would correct grievant's behavior, his  recent performance appraisals were favorable. Each of these factors had to be weighed in determining the level of discipline that would be appropriate. Moreover,  Arbitrator Stein observed:

Finally, a determination in this matter cannot be done in a vacuum. It  also need to be tempered by the current mores of our society and the very real level of scrutiny that law enforcement and public employers face, which includes corrections. Over the past several years the media has frequently reported on examples of what is alleged and at times proven to be the use of excessive force in situations involving the treatment of those stopped by law enforcement, arrested and in held custody. While many of these reported situations only deal with a small fraction of interactions between law enforcement and the public, and are often inaccurately reported upon and become the subject of considerable distortions, some are real examples of abuse and result in public employers having to bear considerable liability for assuring their treatment of all people in their custody.

Weighing all of these factors, Arbitrator Stein concluded that while discipline was appropriate grievant should be reinstated without back pay. The arbitrator's award can be found here.

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