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Snyder County Prison v. Teamsters Local Union 764

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

July 10, 2014

Snyder County Prison
Teamsters Local Union 764, Appellant

Argued: June 16, 2014.

Appealed from No. CV-0136-2013. Common Pleas Court of the County of Snyder. Saxton, Senior Judge.

Thomas H. Kohn, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Cory A. Iannacone, Harrisburg, for appellee.




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In this labor arbitration appeal, Teamsters Local Union 764 (Union) seeks review of an order of the Court of Common Pleas of the 17th Judicial District, Snyder County Branch (trial court)[1] that vacated a grievance arbitration award issued by Ralph H. Colflesh, Jr. (Arbitrator). The Colflesh Award sustained the Union's grievance and awarded it costs and attorney fees incurred in defending against an appeal by Snyder County (Employer) from an earlier arbitration award. In vacating the Colflesh Award, the trial court noted the parties' collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was silent as to the recovery of attorney fees. Therefore, the trial court determined the Colflesh Award lacked a foundation in, and did not logically flow from, the CBA.

On appeal, the Union presents two issues. First, the Union asks whether an arbitrator can award attorney fees to a union as damages for the employer's appeal of an earlier arbitration award where the CBA provided that an arbitration decision shall be final and binding, and placed

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no limitation on the arbitrator's authority to fashion an appropriate remedy. The Union also questions whether the Colflesh Award drew its essence from the CBA. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

I. Background

Here, the applicable CBA between Employer and the Union covered the three-year period from January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2013. In the CBA, Employer recognized the Union as the exclusive bargaining agent for Employer's county prison employees.

In February 2012, Employer terminated two correctional officers, William Griffith and Heather Rohrbach (Correctional Officers), for sexual harassment of a visiting nurse while she performed nursing services at the prison. Correctional Officers grieved their termination under the CBA. In July 2012, following a hearing, Arbitrator Richard C. McNeill, Jr., issued an award sustaining the grievances and immediately reinstating Correctional Officers to their positions with any lost wages. The McNeill Award also directed Employer to expunge from Correctional Officers' personnel files any mention of the discipline.

Employer timely filed a petition to vacate the McNeill Award on the basis that it violated public policy against sexual harassment. See Phila. Hous. Auth. v. Am. Fed. of State, Cnty. & Mun. Emp., Dist. 934, Local 934 (AFSCME Local 934 (2012)), 617 Pa. 69, 52 A.3d 1117 (Pa. 2012) (arbitration award's reinstatement of employee discharged for acts constituting sexual harassment violated well--defined and dominant public policy). In February 2013, the trial court granted Employer's motion for summary judgment and entered an order vacating the McNeill Award. The Union appealed. In Snyder County Prison v. Teamsters Local Union 764 (Teamsters Local 764 I), (Pa. Cmwlth., 77 A.3d 724, filed 2013), 2013 WL 5614246, an unreported opinion, we determined Correctional Officers' conduct did not constitute sexual harassment. Accordingly, we reversed the trial court's order and reinstated the McNeill Award.

However, in response to Employer's appeal of the McNeill Award, the Union filed a contractual grievance, alleging Employer violated Article 13 of the CBA (" Grievance Procedure" ), which provides the following three-step grievance procedure:

* * * *
* * * *
Any grievance not satisfactorily settled in Step 2, above, may be appealed to arbitration by either party ....
A. The arbitrator's decision shall be final and binding upon each of the parties hereto.
B. The expense of the arbitrator shall be shared equally by the parties hereto.
C. The arbitrator shall only have the power to interpret the terms and provisions of the Agreement and to render decisions or [sic] disputes there under. No arbitrator shall have the power to render decisions that would add to, subtract from, modify or nullify any of the terms and provisions of this Agreement in arriving at a decision.

R.R. at 27a-28a (emphasis added).

Initially, the Union's grievance sought that the McNeill Award be implemented, and that Employer pay all costs incurred by the Union in defending the appeal, including, but not limited to, attorney fees. See R.R. at 39a. Thereafter, the Union

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withdrew its request for implementation of the McNeill Award, leaving only the Union's request for costs and attorney fees incurred in defense of the County's ...

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