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Ppl Services Corporation v. International Brotherhoods of Electrical Workers Local 1600

United States District Court, Third Circuit

June 10, 2013

PPL SERVICES CORPORATION, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOODS OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS LOCAL 1600 Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GENE E.K. PRATTER, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This labor relations dispute presents an invitation to the Court to intrude upon the precarious balance supposedly struck among an employer, PPL Services Corporation ("PPL"), a union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1600 ("Union"), an employee union member, Joseph Gotzon, and an arbitrator who has revised certain discipline meted out against Mr. Gotzon by PPL.

Specifically, pursuant to Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, 29 U.S.C. § 185 (Doc No. 1), PPL contends that the arbitrator exceeded the scope of the authority granted to him under the collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between PPL and the Union to determine whether just cause existed for the discipline imposed by PPL on Mr. Gotzon. On November 28, 2012, the arbitrator issued an Award that modified the discipline imposed on Mr. Gotzon from five-days' suspension and two-years' probation, to a two-day suspension followed by a six-month probation. PPL now seeks to vacate this Award.

The Union moves to dismiss PPL's complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. This Court has jurisdiction to review the Arbitrator's determination under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, 29 U.S.C. § 185. For the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that the motion to dismiss should be granted.

II. BACKGROUND

PPL is an energy and utility company located in Allentown, PA. The Union is a labor organization representing certain PPL employees, known as "bargaining unit members, " for collective bargaining purposes with their employer. PPL and the Union are, and have been, parties to a CBA that was in effect at all times relevant to this case. On April 10, 2011, the Union filed a grievance alleging that PPL had breached the terms of the CBA by suspending bargaining unit member Mr. Gotzon for five days for insubordination.

The Grievant, Mr. Gotzon, worked at PPL's Lehigh Service Center ("Service Center") as a "troubleman, " a position which required him to respond to power service problems. On July 27, 2011, PPL directed Mr. Gotzon to respond to a "wire down" call. Mr. Gotzon accepted this assignment, but rather than responding to the call, he drove halfway to the site, and then returned to the Service Center with approximately fifteen minutes left in his shift. When he returned, Mr. Gotzon coded his activity regarding the "wire down" call as "NTLS" (no time left in shift) on PPL's electronic system for monitoring service calls. Mr. Gotzon then asked his supervisor whether there was anything left for him to do before his shift ended, to which his supervisor responded that there was no further work for Mr. Gotzon, and thanked Mr. Gotzon for completing the call. Upon discovering that Mr. Gotzon had in fact failed to respond to the "wire down" call, or even visit the site of the call, PPL dispatched another technician to handle it.

The parties' CBA contains a grievance and arbitration procedure that allows the Union to file grievances concerning any dispute arising between the parties under the agreement. The CBA provides, in relevant part:

The Grievance Procedure... shall be applicable to complaints regarding the meaning, application, interpretation or administration of any provision of this Agreement limiting the following functions of Management, which are the only ones limited by this Agreement; namely, the right to:.... discipline employees for misconduct on the job or other violation of rules and discharge employees for just cause.

Compl. ¶ 8 (quoting CBA, Art II, § 5A). The CBA does not define the "just cause" that is a prerequisite to imposing discipline for employee misconduct or other violation of work rules. With respect to grievances that proceed to arbitration, the CBA provides that the "arbitrator shall have no power to add to, or subtract from, or modify any of the terms and provisions of this Agreement, or Agreements made supplementary hereto, " Compl. Ex. A, Art III, § 7(A)(2), but sets forth no explicit directions or limitations regarding an arbitrator's authority to craft a remedy.

At the arbitration hearing held on August 22, 2012, the parties stipulated to the following issue for resolution: "Was the discipline imposed on the Grievant, Joseph Gotzon, for just cause? If not, what shall the remedy be?" Compl. Ex. C, at 2. The Arbitrator rephrased the issue as "whether the Company has met its burden of showing it had just cause to impose a five-day suspension and two-years of probation on the Grievant for failing to complete the wire down' assignment on July 27, 2011." Compl. Ex. C, at 14. PPL argued that it had just cause to discipline Mr. Gotzon because he had unilaterally decided not to finish an assignment that his supervisor had specifically directed him to complete, and had misrepresented his completion of the call to his supervisor. Further, PPL argued that troublemen like Mr. Gotzon have no right to decide when their workdays end, even if responding to a call will require them to work overtime. The Union contended that because the "wire down" assignment was classified as a "scrap, " or low-priority, call, Mr. Gotzon followed the standard practice of declining to start working on the call because it would require overtime hours to complete. The Union further argued that the five-day suspension imposed was excessive because PPL's Responsible Behavior Program ("RBP"), which governs employee discipline, calls for progressive discipline steps, rather than immediate suspension, and Mr. Gotzon had no prior record of discipline.

On November 29, 2012, the Arbitrator issued an Award sustaining the grievance in part and denying it in part. Based upon the testimony and evidence presented at the arbitration hearing, the Arbitrator concluded that "the Company did not have just cause to impose a five-day suspension and a two-year probation on the Grievant for failing to complete an assignment." Compl. Ex. C, at 19. However, because the Arbitrator found that just cause existed to discipline Mr. Gotzon for his insubordination, the Arbitrator issued a remedy that reduced the duration of the discipline to a two-day suspension and a six-month probation. In reaching this conclusion, the Arbitrator interpreted "just cause" in the parties' CBA to mean "whether the discipline imposed in this case was reasonable." Compl. Ex. C, p. 17. The Arbitrator determined that, while troublemen may routinely decline to start work on low-priority assignments when there is insufficient time to complete the call before the end of their shifts, Mr. Gotzon had a duty to complete the "wire down" job because his supervisor had specifically directed him to do so. However, the Arbitrator also found that Mr. Gotzon's supervisor did not clearly instruct Mr. Gotzon to work beyond the end of his shift in order to complete the assignment. In determining the appropriate remedy, the Arbitrator concluded that the "lack of clarity surrounding the Company's overtime policies with respect to completing scrap' jobs, in conjunction with the routine' procedure of allowing employees to turn back NTLS, ' warrants some mitigation of the Grievant's penalty." ...


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