Appealed From No. A.D. 1995-1108. Common Pleas Court of the County of Crawford. Judge VARDARO.
Before: Honorable Bernard L. McGINLEY, Judge, Honorable Jim Flaherty, Judge, Honorable Silvestri Silvestri, Senior Judge. Opinion BY Judge Flaherty.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flaherty
OPINION BY JUDGE FLAHERTY
The above-captioned appeal was instituted by Crawford County (County). *fn1 The County appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Crawford County (trial court) dismissing its petition to vacate the arbitration award of Arbitrator Bernard S. Fabian (Arbitrator) interpreting the collective bargaining agreement (Agreement) between the County and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, District Council 85, Local Union No. 2643 (Union), which is governed by the Public Employe Relations Act (Act). *fn2 We reverse.
The Warden of the Crawford County Prison, by letter dated December 22, 1994, discharged Corrections Sergeant Arthur Pringle (Pringle) for consistently failing to conduct strip searches on inmates returning from work release, for ordering lower-level guards not to conduct these searches, and for taking gratuities from inmates. The other guards, who were also involved, were only reprimanded. The Union, of which Pringle is a member, is certified by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board as the exclusive bargaining representative for the guards at the Crawford County Prison. The Agreement in question was effective from January 1, 1992 to December 31, 1994.
On December 28, 1994, the Union grieved Pringle's discharge asserting that the discharge lacked "just cause" as required by the Agreement. The County denied the grievance and the Union appealed the matter to arbitration. The Agreement provides that the Union will notify Employer of issues to be addressed at arbitration. The Union framed the issue for arbitration to be whether Pringle was discharged for "just cause." In determining "just cause," the Arbitrator evaluated whether Pringle's discharge constituted disparate treatment in comparison to the other guards, who were merely reprimanded for the same conduct. After concluding that Pringle was disciplined more severely than others who engaged in the same conduct, the Arbitrator modified the discharge to a nine-month suspension without pay and ordered Pringle's immediate reinstatement without any loss of seniority.
On appeal, the County asserts that the trial court erred in sustaining the grievance arbitration award (1) because the issue of disparate treatment, as a mitigating factor, was outside the jurisdiction of the Arbitrator under the terms of the Agreement; (2) because the award did not draw its essence from the Agreement; (3) because the trial court applied the incorrect case law and standards to the instant case; and (4) because the trial court ruled that the Arbitrator's imprecisely drafted arbitration opinion prevented proper judicial review of the arbitration award. Before addressing these issues, however, we must first articulate the appropriate standard of judicial review to determine the depth to which we may proceed in examining the arbitration award.
Section 301(1) of the Act includes the Crawford County Prison which, as a political subdivision of the Commonwealth, is a public employer for purposes of the Act. Also, corrections officers have been held to be Act 195 employees. City of Philadelphia v. Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge No. 5, 129 Pa. Commw. 392, 565 A.2d 1232, 1234 (Pa. Commw. 1989).
Although there has been much confusion in the past, the law is now well-settled in the Commonwealth that the standard of judicial review of grievance arbitration awards under the Act is the "essence test." In the seminal case of Community College of Beaver County v. Community College of Beaver County, Society of the Faculty (PSEA/NEA), 473 Pa. 576, 375 A.2d 1267 (1977), our Supreme Court held that the standard of review which is provided in the Arbitration Act of 1927 *fn3 applies to arbitration awards under the Act. Id. at 587-94, 375 A.2d at 1274-76. Subsequently, in County of Centre v. Musser, 519 Pa. 380, 548 A.2d 1194 (1988), our Supreme Court stated that "although the Arbitration Act of 1927 was superseded in 1980, subsequent to the [Beaver ] case, the statute's provisions relative to judicial review of arbitral awards were retained in the superseding legislation, the present Uniform Arbitration Act. *fn4 In Beaver, our Supreme Court adopted the reasoning of the United States Supreme Court in United Steelworkers v. Enterprise Wheel and Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593, 596, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1424, 80 S. Ct. 1358 (1960), where the nation's highest Court reasoned that "'the refusal of courts to review the merits of an arbitration award is the proper approach to arbitration under collective bargaining agreements. The federal policy of settling labor disputes by arbitration would be undermined if courts had the final say on the merits of the awards.'" Id. at 586, 375 A.2d at 1272. The Beaver Court, however, specifically noted that the United States Supreme Court, in Enterprise Wheel and Car, added the following:
"An arbitrator is confined to interpretation and application of the collective bargaining agreement; he does not sit to dispense his own brand of industrial Justice. He may, of course, look for guidance from many sources, yet his award is legitimate only so long as it draws its essence from the collective bargaining agreement. When the arbitrator's words manifest an infidelity to this obligation, courts have no choice but to refuse enforcement of the award."
Id. From this premise, the Beaver Court added the following:
"Where a task of an arbitrator, PERA or otherwise, has been to determine the intention of the contracting parties as evidenced by their collective bargaining agreement and the circumstances surrounding its execution, then the arbitrator's award is based on a resolution of a question of fact and is to be respected by the judiciary if 'the interpretation can in any rational way be derived from the agreement, ...