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Crozer-Chester Medical Center v. Crozer-Chester Nurses Association/Pennsylvania

June 29, 2012

CROZER-CHESTER MEDICAL CENTER
PLAINTIFF,
v.
CROZER-CHESTER NURSES ASSOCIATION/PENNSYLVANIA
ASSOCIATION OF STAFF NURSES AND ALLIED PROFESSIONALS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baylson, J.

MEMORANDUM ON CROSS MOTIONS FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

I. Introduction

Presently before this Court are Plaintiff's and Defendant's concurrent Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings. This action involves a labor dispute between Crozer-Chester Medical Center ("Crozer")and Crozer-Chester Nurses Association/Pennsylvania Association of School Nurses and Practitioners ("Union"). Crozer and the Union were parties to a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"), which was in effect at all times relevant to this case. Crozer urges this Court to vacate the labor arbitration award (see Compl. attached to Pl.'s Mot. J. Pleadings as Ex. 6) ("Award") of Arbitrator David Koff ("Arbitrator") reinstating Stephanie Tunstall, RN ("Grievant") to her position. The Union asks this Court to enforce the labor arbitration award.

Having reviewed the Arbitrator's lengthy decision, this Court finds the Arbitrator carefully considered the issues, the parties' contentions, the facts, and the law and supported his decision with rational reasoning. For this and the reasons discussed below, the Union's Motion will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, and Crozer's Motion will be DENIED.

II. Factual Background and Procedural History

Although the reviewing court must "defer to the arbitrator's factual findings," some discussion of the background to the case will be helpful in following the court's reasoning. See Citgo Asphalt Refining Co. v. Paper Workers Int'l Union Local No. 2-991, 385 F.3d 809, 816 (3d Cir. 2004).

On February 24, 2011, Crozer terminated Grievant from her position as a registered nurse for violating Crozer's workplace rule for her failure to use the Spectralink wireless system properly on one of her patients. Compl. ¶ 12. This system keeps an electronic record of patients' vital signs and also communicates by radio wave through wireless telephones to all the nurses working on the floor. Award at 4-5.

In the incident that resulted in termation, Grievant brought the patient to a lower floor for some testing. Id. at 7. Upon returning to her floor with the patient, Grievant failed to push the "resume" button on the Spectralink central monitor, which would have turned her patient's monitor back on. Id. at 8. Shortly thereafter, the patient stopped breathing and subsequently died. Id. Grievant's failure to use the equipment properly did not cause the patient's death. Id. However, it prevented the patient's cardiologist from ascertaining the precise cause of death. Id.

Crozer has levels of progressive discipline for employees: Informal Counseling, Level I Warning, Level II Warning, Suspension, and, finally, Termination. Compl. ¶ 7. Termination is reserved for "extremely serious cases or when no improvement is shown even after disciplinary suspension." Id. Prior to Grievant's discharge in February 2011, Grievant received a three-day suspension in March of 2010 for practicing outside the scope of nursing practice. Id. ¶13. Additionally, within the three years preceding her termination, Grievant committed two minor offenses for which she received counseling. Id.

Crozer and the Union were parties to a collective bargaining agreement with a term running from June 5, 2008 until June 8, 2011. Compl. ¶ 4. The CBA covers the terms and conditions of employment for part-time and full-time registered nurses at Crozer. Id. The CBA provides in relevant part that "Crozer shall have the right to discharge, suspend or discipline any employee for just cause after proper investigation by management which may include a review by Human Resources Department . . . ." Id. ¶ 5. The CBA also indicates that disciplinary action is "usually, but not necessarily, progressive in nature." Pl.'s Mem. Law Support Mot. J. Pleadings ¶ 3. However, the CBA also states that the goal of progressive discipline is to correct behavior and not solely to punish the employee. See Compl. attached to Pl.'s Mot. J. Pleadings as Ex. A-2 at 2.

The CBA explains that upon termination, if the disagreement is not satisfactorily settled, the matter can be appealed to an impartial arbitrator "who would be selected in accordance with the rules of the American Arbitration Association applicable to labor arbitrations." Compl. attached to Pl.'s Mot. J. Pleadings as Ex. A-1(2) at 36. Finally, the CBA states that the arbitrator's decision shall be "final and binding upon the parties." Def.'s Br. Support Mot. J. Pleadings at 2.

The arbitration hearing took place on October 6, 2011. Award at 1. The parties agreed the Arbitrator should determine whether Crozer discharged the Grievant for "just cause" and if not, what the remedy should be. Id. In the Award, the Arbitrator indicated that Crozer had the burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that it had "cause" and the termination was "just." Award at 10. The Arbitrator explained that Crozer and the Union agreed that there was no question that Crozer had "cause" since the Grievant did not reactivate the monitoring equipment as she was supposed to. Id. Therefore, the only remaining issue for the Arbitrator to decide was whether the discharge for the improper use of the monitoring equipment was "just." Id. The Arbitrator rephrased this as whether the discharge was proportionate in light of the nature of the infraction and the Grievant's past record. Id.

The Arbitrator did not agree with Crozer that the Grievant's infraction taken with her previous discipline record, justified termination. Award at 11. Based on the testimony, the Arbitrator found that "the Grievant's discipline record and the nature of the Grievant's misconduct neither individually nor in concert support a termination." Id. From the conclusion that the termination was not "just," the Arbitrator determined that a five-day suspension was appropriate in order to "call attention to the seriousness of the offense." Id.

Following the arbitration hearing, Crozer filed a Complaint in this Court seeking to vacate the arbitration award. (ECF No. 1). The Union filed an Answer and Counter-claim (ECF No. 4) relative to the Plaintiff's Complaint seeking to enforce the award on December 5, 2011, and Crozer filed an Answer (ECF No. 8) on December 21, 2011. The parties filed cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings on January 17, 2012 (ECF Nos. 10-11).

III. The Parties' ...


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