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United States Postal Service v. National Association of Letter Carriers

filed: February 5, 1988.

UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE,
v.
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF LETTER CARRIERS, AFL-CIO, APPELLANT



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil No. 86-2683.

Gibbons, Chief Judge, and Weis and Greenberg, Circuit Judges.

Author: Gibbons

Opinion OF THE COURT

GIBBONS, Chief Judge:

This is an appeal from a final order of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania vacating an arbitration award as a violation of public policy. The district court's decision, 663 F. Supp. 118 (1987), was based on cross-motions for summary judgment and no material facts are in dispute. Accordingly, our review is plenary. The question presented for review is whether the district court exceeded its limited authority of review in vacating an arbitrator's award, entered pursuant to a collective-bargaining agreement, that reduced an employee's penalty for off-duty violent misconduct from discharge to suspension without pay, and awarded the employee backpay. We conclude that the recent unanimous Supreme Court decision in United Paperworks Int'l v. Misco, 484 U.S 29, 56 U.S.L.W. 4011, 108 S. Ct. 364, 98 L. Ed. 2d 286 (1987), reversing an appellate court ruling that affirmed the vacation of an arbitrator's award under a collective-bargaining agreement on public policy grounds, is controlling. Therefore, the district court's judgment will be reversed.

I.

The arbitration award under review was rendered under a collective-bargaining agreement ("the Agreement") between the United States Postal Service ("the Postal Service"), an independent federal agency, and the National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO ("NALC"), the labor organization which represents the nationwide bargaining unit of all postal employees. Article 15 of the Agreement provides a multi-step grievance procedure culminating in binding arbitration before a neutral arbitrator selected from an established panel of postal service employees. The grievant is a postal employee, Edward Jackson. The Postal Service suspended and discharged Mr. Jackson pursuant to Article 16 of the Agreement which sets forth a "just cause" standard for discharge, and subjects all forms of discipline to the grievance-arbitration procedure in Article 15.

In July 1986, an arbitration hearing was held before arbitrator William J. LeWinter. The arbitrator found that the Postal Service had taken disciplinary action against Mr. Jackson because, while off-duty, he had fired gun shots at his Postmaster's empty parked car, damaging the windshield, dashboard and front seat -- an incident to which Mr. Jackson voluntarily confessed. In evaluating whether the forms of disciplinary action taken against Mr. Jackson violated Article 16 of the agreement, arbitrator LeWinter concluded that, although Mr. Jackson's "serious act" warranted some disciplinary action, other facts indicated that the Article 16 "just cause" standard for discharge was not met. In particular, arbitrator LeWinter found that the Postal Service management had failed to take into account the following mitigating circumstances that ought properly to have been considered -- specifically:

During his thirteen years of work prior to the offense, Mr. Jackson demonstrated a pacific, nonviolent and law-abiding character;

Mr. Jackson had been repeatedly frustrated in his efforts to gain a promotion notwithstanding his consistently good work record and the fact that he was the sole office employee to receive an "excellent" rating on a Postal Service examination designed to identify candidates for promotion;

Mr. Jackson filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") on this basis alleging that he was being discriminated against because he was black;

Mr. Jackson voluntarily withdrew his EEOC complaint as part of an agreement, arrived at in a meeting among him, his EEOC counselor, and the Postmaster, that he would be afforded the opportunity to advance to the "204-B" job category, and to have regular discussions with the Postmaster regarding application for promotions to other specific job categories, on condition of improvement in his work performance;

On the morning before the offense occurred, another meeting was held among Jackson, his EEOC counselor, and the Postmaster to discuss the fact that, after over a year, Jackson had still not been promoted to any of the job categories mentioned in the agreement, during which the Postmaster stated that, due to budget constraints and Jackson's attitude, Jackson would not be promoted.

Arbitrator LeWinter concluded from these findings of fact that the "supercharged emotional atmosphere," created by these background events, was responsible for Mr. Jackson's violent outburst. Weighing the single offense against Jackson's "13 year deposit in the 'bank of good will'," arbitrator LeWinter determined that Article 16, under which penalties are intended not to be punitive and discharge must be for "just cause," required a lesser penalty than discharge. Accordingly, he directed that Jackson be reinstated. The arbitrator further ruled that Jackson's suspension without pay violated section 7 of Article 16, which authorizes suspension only if employment may result in damage or injury, because the Postal Service's decision to suspend was made eleven days after the offense, during ...


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