Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Northumberland County in case of Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit No. 16 v. Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit Education Association, No. CV-81-1738.
Peter J. O'Brien, O'Brien and Miller, for appellant.
O. William Vanderlin, McNerney, Page, Vanderlin & Hall, for appellee.
Judges Blatt, MacPhail and Doyle, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge MacPhail.
[ 74 Pa. Commw. Page 249]
Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit Education Association (Association) has brought this appeal from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Northumberland County vacating an arbitrator's award and dismissing the Association's grievance. We reverse and reinstate the arbitrator's award.
Michael Thew, a professional employee member of the Association and a special education teacher, sought pre-approval of credit reimbursement from his employer, Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit #16 (CSIU). Under the collective bargaining agreement entered into between the Association and CSIU, a professional employee was entitled to reimbursement for up to fifteen credit hours per fiscal year "for pre-approved courses only." The contract did not provide any stated criteria for pre-approval. Thew sought reimbursement for a course entitled "School Law and Finance." CSIU refused to approve his request, indicating that the course was not within Thew's field of work. A grievance was filed which ultimately proceeded to arbitration.
The arbitrator determined that the past practice of CSIU, both under the present contract and prior
[ 74 Pa. Commw. Page 250]
contracts, was to pre-approve "Education" courses and to disapprove only those courses outside the field of Education. He also found that the "School Law and Finance" course had been consistently pre-approved for eight other employees over some four years without rejection. In answer to CSIU's contention that these eight approvals were for persons considered supervisory material and that the course was suitable for a supervisor, the arbitrator found that at least two of the persons were not being considered for supervisory positions. The arbitrator also considered this contention to be in conflict with CSIU's argument that pre-approval would be given for courses within an employee's current field of work. The arbitrator thus sustained the grievance.
CSIU filed an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas. The court determined that the absence of criteria for pre-approval in the contract gave CSIU absolute discretion to grant pre-approval and that the arbitrator's action in ordering approval improperly added to the contract. Furthermore, the court determined that the arbitrator's use of past practices was improper due to the existence of an integration clause.
Our Supreme Court has consistently reminded us of the very narrow scope of review given to the judiciary over arbitration awards. The arbitrator's decision may not be overturned so long as it draws its "essence" from the collective bargaining agreement. Leechburg Area School District v. Dale, 492 Pa. 515, 517, 424 A.2d 1309, 1312 (1981). So long as the subject matter of the dispute is encompassed within ...