On Appeal from the United States District Court, District of New Jersey.
Weis, Higginbotham and Sloviter, Circuit Judges.
The district court vacated an arbitral award reinstating a discharged employee. The employee's union appeals on his behalf. We will reverse the judgment of the district court.
Super Tire Engineering Company ("Super Tire"), a manufacturer, seller, and distributor of tires, fired Mitchell Gray, a spot repairer at the company's Pennsauken, New Jersey plant, for drinking alcoholic beverages during working hours. Teamsters Local 676 ("the Union"), which represents Gray under the collective bargaining agreement, grieved his discharge, and the parties submitted the unresolved dispute to arbitration before the New Jersey State Board of Mediation.
The agreement in Article 15 provides that no employee may be discharged "without just cause." In the same section, it also provides that no employee may be dismissed until the case has been discussed with the Business Agent of the Union and until there has been at least one written warning except where there is provision for "immediate dismissal." There are seven specified causes for "immediate dismissal," including "proven drinking during working hours."*fn1
The arbitrator found, and it is not contested on appeal, that Gray had been drinking alcoholic beverages at the nearby Dew Drop Inn during work breaks. He held that work breaks were "working hours" and that Gray's conduct constituted "drinking". Therefore, the conduct fell within the grounds for "immediate dismissal". He held the power to dismiss could not, however, be exercised free of review for just cause. The arbitrator held that the portion of Article 15 permitting immediate dismissal must be read in pari materia with the just cause language and reasoned that "the Company's right [to discharge an employee] is tempered, at least to the degree that such action need be exercised in a fair and even manner, rather than in an arbitrary or capricious fashion."
The arbitrator decided that absent a specific warning, the penalty of summary discharge of Gray was too severe. Super Tire had to notify its employees that it intended to enforce strictly the listed conditions of immediate discharge. "There must . . . be a clearly understood and uniform application of the rule against drinking prior to its strict implementation."*fn2
The arbitrator found no evidence of a prior immediate dismissal of an employee for drinking, no general warning of company policy, and no such warning to Gray. Although Super Tire had previously suspended Gray for one day after accusing him of drinking during working hours on the premises*fn3 and had warned him in general terms to "remember that there is to be no drinking of alcoholic beverages on company premises nor during working hours," Super Tire did not warn him of an automatic sanction of discharge.
In determining the "appropriate punishment" for Gray's violation of the contract by drinking during working hours, the arbitrator took into account Gray's 13 years of service, the lack of clear warning, and the prior infraction. The arbitrator found there was just cause for four months' suspension without pay, but not for dismissal, and ordered Gray reinstated with back pay from four months after dismissal at full salary and benefits, less interim earnings and compensation.
Super Tire filed suit in district court seeking to vacate the award.*fn4 Subject matter jurisdiction was grounded on section 301 of the Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185. On cross motions for summary judgment, the district court vacated the arbitrator's award. The court recognized the extremely limited nature of review of arbitral awards, held that under this court's recent decision in ARCO-Polymers, Inc. v. Local 8-74, 671 F.2d 752 (3d Cir. 1982), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 828, 103 S. Ct. 63, 74 L. Ed. 2d 65 (1983), the arbitrator was justified in considering whether there was just cause for the discharge, but held that the arbitrator had acted impermissibly in ...