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Dauphin Precision Tool, LLC v. United Steel Workers of America

March 26, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

(Judge Conner)


Presently before the court is the challenge of plaintiff Dauphin Precision Tool, LLC ("Dauphin Precision") to an arbitration award in favor of defendant union United Steel Workers ("the USW"), which represents its employees. Dauphin Precision seeks to set aside the award because it is allegedly contrary to the collective bargaining agreement between the parties and because of arbitral bias in favor of the union. The USW contends that neither argument warrants vacatur of the award. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, Dauphin Precision's motion (Doc. 16) will be denied, and the USW's motion (Doc. 20) will be granted.

I. Factual Background*fn1

On May 10, 2006, Dauphin Precision discharged Timothy Tschopp ("Tschopp"), an employee of nineteen years and member of the USW, for repeated unexcused absence from work. (Doc. 29 ¶ 8; Doc. 34 ¶ 8.)*fn2 Dauphin Precision and the USW dispute the legitimacy of this discharge under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") then in effect between the parties.

A. The Collective Bargaining Agreement

Dauphin Precision and USW entered the CBA controlling this dispute on November 15, 2005. (Doc. 1, Ex. A at 1.) The agreement, which has a term of one year, includes an absenteeism policy outlining progressive sanctions for employees as they accumulate absentee hours. (See id. & app. D.IV.) The policy provides that an employee will receive verbal counseling after twenty-four absentee hours and written counseling after thirty-two hours and forty hours of absence respectively.

(Id.) Employees accumulating more forty absentee hours are subject to discharge.*fn3

(Id.) The policy does not define "absentee hours" but exempts military service, jury duty, approved union activity, and absences under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). (Id.) In addition, the policy does not state whether vacation hours qualify as "absentee hours" within the ambit of the progressive discipline provisions. A substantively identical absentee policy was in effect during the previous contract year, which commenced November 16, 2004. (Doc. 19 at 45-46.)*fn4

The CBA contains separate provisions governing vacation, leaves of absence, and discharge. It authorizes employees to substitute one day of vacation pay for one day of illness, provided that the employee informs the company on the day of absence. (Doc. 1, Ex. A § XVII.3.) The contract also authorizes the company to control allotment of employees' vacation periods to ensure that the company is able to maintain adequate staffing for essential positions on all shifts. (Id. § XVII.3.) The CBA's seniority terms provide that employees will lose their seniority and employment upon "discharge[] for just cause." (Doc. 1, Ex. A § XVIII.7.b.)

B. Tschopp's Absences

Beginning in the spring of 2004, Tschopp commenced an annual pattern of expending all his vacation days within approximately three months of receiving them. (Doc. 19 at 47-49.) According to Dauphin Precision's time records, Tschopp was absent from work on twenty-two days between mid-March and mid-June of 2004. (Doc. 1, Ex. B at 7; Doc. 19 at 47.) Nine days were vacation taken with proper notice (hereinafter "proper vacation days"). For ten of the twenty-two days, Tschopp did not provide notice but had unused vacation time to cover the absences (hereinafter "improper vacation days"). For the remaining three days, he provided no notice and lacked vacation time to cover the absences. (hereinafter "unexcused absences"). (Doc. 1, Ex. B at 7; Doc. 19 at 47.) Tschopp behaved in a similar manner in spring 2005, with twenty days of absence in March and April. (Doc. 1, Ex. B at 7; Doc. 19 at 48.) Five of these were proper vacation days; fifteen were improper vacation days. (Doc. 1, Ex. B at 7; Doc. 19 at 48.) The pattern continued in spring 2006, when Tschopp was absent twenty-eight days in March, April, and May. (Doc. 1, Ex. B at 8; Doc. 19 at 49.) Six absences were proper vacation days. (Doc. 1, Ex. B at 8; Doc. 19 at 49.) Sixteen were improper vacation days, and six were unexcused absences. (Doc. 1, Ex. B at 8; Doc. 19 at 49.) Dauphin Precision discharged Tschopp on May 10, 2006, avowedly because the six unexcused absences translated into forty-four absentee hours under the absenteeism policy, which prescribed termination. (Doc. 1, Ex. B at 8; Doc. 19 at 68.)

The USW acknowledges that these absences occurred but contends that many of them were associated with Tschopp's diagnosis of polycythemia, a condition causing an abnormal increase in the number of red blood cells circulating in the blood stream.*fn5 (Doc. 1, Ex. B at 11). Tschopp had applied for and received FMLA leave for his condition in spring 2005, and he had also submitted statements of his physicians describing his medical problems to the company during early 2006.

(Doc. 1, Ex. B at 9; Doc. 29 ¶ 10; Doc. 34, ¶ 10.) He began the process of reapplying for FMLA leave during the spring of that year, and he had planned to submit the requisite paperwork after a May 25, 2006 appointment with his treating physician. (Id. at 11-12.) His May 10, 2006 discharge preempted those plans.

C. The Dispute and Arbitration Proceeding

The USW instituted a grievance on behalf of Tschopp, claiming that Dauphin Precision discharged him in violation of the CBA. (Doc. 29 ¶ 12; Doc. 32 ¶ 12.) Internal conciliation attempts under the CBA's grievance procedures proved unsuccessful, and the parties submitted the grievance to arbitrator Patrick McFadden ("Arbitrator McFadden" or "McFadden") on October 24, 2006. (Doc. 19 at 36.) William Coyle, Jr. ("Coyle"), the president of Dauphin Precision, represented the company at the hearing. (Doc. 1, Ex. B at 1.) The USW was ...

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