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Brentwood Medical Associates v. United Mine Workers of America

January 28, 2005; as amended March 17, 2005

BRENTWOOD MEDICAL ASSOCIATES APPELLANT
v.
UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil No. 03-cv-1258) District Judge: Hon. Arthur J. Schwab

Before: Ambro, and Van Antwerpen, Circuit Judges and SHADUR,*fn1 Senior District Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Van Antwerpen, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued December 7, 2004

OPINION

The Federal Arbitration Act codifies Congress' desire to uphold private arbitration agreements that produce prompt and fair dispute resolution without involving the courts. In furtherance of this interest, a court must scrupulously honor the bargains implicit in such agreements and interfere only when an award is severely problematic. See, e.g., Shearson/American Exp., Inc. v. McMahon, 482 U.S. 220, 223 (1987). This appeal asks us to determine whether or not an arbitration award should be upheld where an arbitrator inexplicably cites language in his decision that cannot be found in the relevant collective bargaining agreement. Because we conclude that such a mistake, while glaring, does not fatally taint the balance of the arbitrator's decision in this case, we affirm the decision of the District Court upholding the award.

I. Factual Background

Brentwood Medical Associates ("BMA") and the United Mine Workers of America ("UMWA") are parties to a collective bargaining agreement that covers the terms and conditions of employment for a unit of employees at BMA's facility in Brentwood, Pennsylvania. This agreement provides a mandatory grievance and arbitration procedure for disputes between the parties. Arbitration of grievances is conducted by an arbitrator chosen from a panel, and that arbitrator's decision "shall be final and binding upon the employees, the Union and the Employer." Joint Appendix ("J.A.") at 48. Under the agreement, an arbitrator is explicitly prevented from "add[ing] to, subtract[ing] from, or modify[ing] in any way any of the provisions, terms [or] conditions of [the]

Agreement." Id.

The grievance that gave rise to this appeal alleged that BMA violated the collective bargaining agreement when it refused to allow a union member to exercise her seniority rights under Article VIII. In February, 2001, Ms. Denise Cope (a member of UMWA) was offered the position of Charge Entry Associate, for which she left her position as a Phlebotomist. On November 11, 2002, BMA announced it would be abolishing the Charge Entry Associate classification effective November 15, 2002. Ms. Cope requested permission to "bump"*fn2 outside her classification of Charge Entry Associate and return to her position as a Phlebotomist, thereby displacing the least senior person in that classification. This request was refused, and BMA instead offered Ms. Cope the position of Front Office Clerk.*fn3

On November 14, 2002, Ms. Cope filed a grievance with BMA pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, claiming that BMA had violated Article VIII, Sections 1, 2, and 10.*fn4 On February 3, 2003, BMA denied this grievance.

BMA and UMWA then proceeded to binding arbitration pursuant to Article XIV of the collective bargaining agreement. Arbitrator John M. Felice was selected to conduct the arbitration, and on August 6, 2003, he issued a decision sustaining the grievance and ordering BMA to permit Ms. Cope to exercise her seniority rights and bump the least senior Phlebotomist. J.A. at 68-75. In that decision, the arbitrator asked rhetorically why, if bumping was not permitted under the collective bargaining agreement as BMA contended, was the following language governing bumping present in Article VIII, Section 10:

"... employees who exercise seniority rights and bump must have the skill, qualifications, ability and physical fitness to perform all of the work remaining in that classification..."

J.A. at 73-4. This language does not exist in either Article VIII, Section 10, or anywhere else in the ...


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