On February 28th, a panel of the Second Circuit held that an arbitrator exceeded his authority by finding that an employee had been terminated for just cause but awarding the employee one final “opportunity to prove he can be a productive employee.” The ruling upholds a 2003 decision by Judge Griesa in the Southern District of New York vacating the arbitral award.
The employer, Concourse, discharged the employee, Alberto Mejia, after he screamed “Hit me! Hit Me!” at a supervisor and, three weeks later, “became violent, cursed, screamed, and accused his employers of discrimination” when they questioned him about the earlier episode. Concourse Associates v. Fishman, 2005 WL 458698 at *1 (2005). Pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement, Mejia could not be discharged “without good and just cause.”
Under the arbitration provision of the collective bargaining, the arbitrator had “no authority to add to, subtract from, or modify the provisions of [the CBA].” Id. The parties asked the arbitrator to decide whether Mejia was discharged for just cause, and if not, what the remedy should be.
The arbitrator found that “[t]he behavior of the Grievant is incomprehensible in light of the facts as testified. It is completely unacceptable in the workplace and the Employer had no option but to terminate the Grievant.” Id. However, the arbitrator went on to rule that Mejia “should be given an opportunity to prove he can be a productive employee. Therefore I will return him to his prior or a similar position with a final warning and a six-month probationary basis.” Id.
The Second Circuit, agreeing with Judge Griesa, interpreted the arbitral award’s “no option but to terminate” language as a finding that Mejia was discharged for good and just cause. Since the arbitrator found just cause, the courts reasoned, he did not have authority to fashion a remedy beyond the limitations imposed by the CBA and the questions submitted by the parties for arbitration.
The Second Circuit’s decision can be found at 2005 WL 458698 and is also available at:
Judge Griesa’s opinion from the District Court is available at 2003 WL 22966311.