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Seiu Healthcare Pennsylvania, CTW, CLC v. Regional Hospital of Scranton

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 12, 2015

SEIU HEALTHCARE PENNSYLVANIA, CTW, CLC, Plaintiff
v.
REGIONAL HOSPITAL OF SCRANTON, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROBERT D. MARIANI, District Judge.

I. Procedural History

In this action, Plaintiff, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, CTW, CLC (hereinafter "SEIU" or "the Union") has filed suit to confirm and enforce a labor arbitration award issued pursuant to SEIU's Collective Bargaining Agreement with Defendant, Regional Hospital of Scranton (hereinafter "Hospital").

This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to Section 301(a) of the Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185(a) and 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1337.

Venue is proper in the Middle District of Pennsylvania pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1391, since the Defendant is located in this judicial district and because a substantial part of the events giving rise to the claimant in this case occurred in the Middle District.

As noted above, SEIU and Regional Hospital of Scranton, hereinafter "Hospital", were parties to a Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") for the period November 10, 2011 through February 28, 2013. A copy of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, without its Appendices, is attached to Plaintiffs Complaint as Exhibit A. (Doc. 1-2). The Union and the Hospital agree that upon the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, they are "operating under the terms of the CBA, consistent with applicable labor law, while they continue to bargain for a successor agreement." (Compl., Doc. 1, ¶ 6; Answer, Doc. 9, ¶ 6).

The Collective Bargaining Agreement between SEIU and the Hospital contains, in Section 4.1 thereof, a grievance procedure which provides for the submission of unresolved disputes between the Union and the Hospital to arbitration. Specifically, Section 4.3 of the CBA provides for the submission of an unresolved grievance to arbitration by the Union filing a written demand for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association. Thereafter, an arbitrator is chosen in accordance with the Rules and Regulations of the American Arbitration Association.

Section 4.6 of the CBA provides:

The award of an arbitrator hereunder shall be final, conclusive and binding upon the Hospital, the Union and the employees including all disputes regarding Management's application of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

(Doc. 1 at ¶ 9; Doc. 9 at ¶ 9; Doc. 1-2).

Further, the Collective Bargaining Agreement provides, in Section 5.1 thereof, that "[t]he Hospital shall have the right to discharge, suspend or discipline any employee for just cause." (Doc. 1-2, p. 8).

On February 1, 2012, the Hospital suspended bargaining unit employee, Roberta Robbins, who, the Hospital asserted, had been sleeping on the job. (Compl. at ¶ 15; Answ., Doc. 9, ¶ 15).

On February 3, 2012, the Hospital terminated the employment of Roberta Robbins on the claim that she had been sleeping on duty during the night of February 1, 2012. (Compl. at ¶ 16),

The Union filed a Grievance on behalf of Ms. Robbins which asserted that Ms. Robbins had been discharged without just cause and that her discipline was imposed without the interview provided for in Section 5.2 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. (Id. at ¶ 17).

When the parties were unable to resolve the Robbins Grievance, it was submitted to arbitration. Arbitrator Scott E. Buchheit was appointed to serve as the Neutral Arbitrator to hear and decide the Grievance. (Id. at ¶ 19).

Arbitrator Buchheit held a hearing on December 11, 2012, at which the Union and the Hospital presented evidence and testimony in support of their respective positions. The parties submitted post-hearing briefs at the conclusion of the hearing. (Id. at ¶ 20).

On April 26, 2013, Arbitrator Buchheit issued his Opinion and Award. A copy of the Arbitrator's Opinion and Award is attached to Plaintiff's Complaint as Exhibit B (Doc. 1-3). Arbitrator Buchheit sustained in part and denied in part the Robbins Grievance and issued the following Award:

AWARD

The grievance is sustained in part and denied in part. For the sustained portion of the grievance, the Employer shall reinstate the Grievant to her former position with full seniority but without back pay or other benefits lost as a result of her termination.

(Doc. 1-3 at 37).

Arbitrator Buchheit wrote in support of his Award:

In short, the Grievant's termination occurred in the absence of the Employer making proper compliance with Section 5.2. The Grievant should have been afforded a "disciplinary interview", with all rights attached to such an interview, including the right to be informed that she could have a Union Delegate present during the interview, and to have such a Delegate present during the interview.
I reject the Employer's assertion that my finding that the Grievant was entitled to a disciplinary interview is a determination beyond my authority, as it results from my rewriting of the Contract. To the contrary, my conclusion results from the application of the clear and unambiguous language contained in Section 5.2. All I do is enforce the rights the Grievant had in this provision, nothing more nothing less.
Given that the Grievant was not afforded the procedural rights to which she was entitled under Section 5.2, I cannot find that just cause existed for the Grievant's termination. It follows that the Union has won the Grievant the right to be reinstated to her former position with full seniority.
I cannot, however, reinstate the Grievant with any back pay or other benefits suffered as a result of her termination. As stressed by the Employer, sleeping on duty is a serious offense. It is particularly serious in this instance, as the Employer has a specific rule against sleeping on duty, and the Grievant had within the previous year been suspended for sleeping on duty....

(Doc. 1-3, at 35-36).

The Union seeks enforcement of the Arbitrator's Award, including the reinstatement of the Grievant, payment of back pay from the date she should have been reinstated until the date of her actual reinstatement, pre-judgment interest on such back wages and an award of attorneys' fees and costs on the basis that the Hospital's failure and refusal to abide by the Buchheit Award is unjustified. The Union notes that the Employer did not file an action to vacate, modify or correct the Buchheit Award and it asserts that it is now precluded from challenging the Award or the Arbitrator's findings. (Compl. at ¶ 34).

On December 30, 2013, the Hospital filed its Answer and Affirmative Defenses to the Complaint. (Doc. 9). The Hospital admits the material allegations of Plaintiffs Complaint and, in particular, admits "that the Hospital did not move to vacate, modify or correct the Award of Arbitrator Buchheit." (Id. at ¶ 28). The Hospital has denied, however, that the Union is entitled to enforcement of the Buchheit Award and has asserted four affirmative defenses as follows: (1) "The award of reinstatement is contrary to Pennsylvania public policy which precludes its enforcement";(2) "[t]he arbitrator exceeded his jurisdiction under the CBA, thereby precluding enforcement of the award"; (3) "[t]he award is contrary to the essence of the CBA, thereby precluding its enforcement"; and (4) "the award of reinstatement is unconscionable, thereby precluding its enforcement." (Doc. 9, at 5)

On February 26, 2014, after consultation with counsel for the parties at a case management conference, the Court entered an Order (Doc. 13) that the Plaintiff file a motion for judgment on the pleadings on or before March 10, 2014 with briefing to be in accordance with Local Rules 7.5, 7.6 and 7.7. The Order further provided that "[s]hould the motion for judgment on the pleadings be denied, cross-motions for summary judgment shall be filed as to the validity and enforceability of the arbitration award at issue within 30 days of the court's order." ( Id. ). On March 7, 2014, SEIU filed its Motion For Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. 15). The Motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Union's Motion For Judgment on the Pleadings as to the Hospital's second, third and fourth affirmative defenses and will direct the parties to file cross-motions for summary judgment as to the Hospital's assertion in its first affirmative defense that the Buchheit Award violates an explicit public policy.

In light of the Court's ruling, resolution of the issues of the Union's claim for back pay and its request for attorneys' fees must necessarily be deferred until the validity of the Buchheit Award is fully determined.

II. Statement of Facts Alleged By Plaintiff Which Have Been Admitted By Defendant

The following is a statement of the averments of the Plaintiffs Complaint (Doc. 1) which have been admitted by the Defendant in its Answer (Doc. 9):

SEIU is the exclusive representative of several units of employees employed by Defendant, Regional Hospital of Scranton, in an industry affecting commerce within the meaning of the LMRA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 142, 152 and 185(a).

The Hospital is a corporation which operates an acute care hospital located at 746 Jefferson Avenue, Scranton, PA 18510. The employees represented by Plaintiff SEIU work at the hospital.

SEIU and the Hospital are parties to a collective bargaining agreement (Doc. 1-2) whose term was from November 10, 2011 through February 28, 2013. This CBA was in effect at all times material to this action.

While the CBA has expired, the parties are operating under the terms of the CBA, consistent with applicable labor law, while they continue to bargain for a successor agreement.

The CBA has a grievance and arbitration procedure which provides for the submission of disputes between the parties to arbitration. Specifically, Section 4.1 of the CBA provides:

A grievance shall be defined as a dispute or complaint arising between the parties hereto, under or out of this Agreement or the interpretation, application, or any alleged breach thereof, and shall be processed and disposed of in the following manner:
Step One - Within twenty (20) calendar days of the time an employee first becomes aware or should have become aware of the occurrence giving rise to the grievance (except as provided in Section 4.11 of this Article), an employee having a grievance and/or his Union delegate shall file a grievance in writing with his/her immediate supervisor. The Hospital shall give its answer to the employee and/or his/her Union delegate or other representative within ten (10) calendar days after the presentation of the grievance in Step One.
Step Two - If the grievance is not settled in Step On[e], the grievance may, within ten (10) calendar days after the answer in Step One, be presented in Step Two. When grievances are presented in Step Two, they shall be reduced to writing, signed by the grievant and his/her Union representative, and presented to the grievant's department head or his/her designee. A grievance so presented in Step Two shall be answered by the Hospital in writing within ten (10) calendar days after its presentation.
Step Three - If the grievance is not settled in Step Two, the grievance may, within ten (10) calendar days after the answer in Step Two, be presented in Step Three. A grievance shall be presented in this Step to the Director of Human Resources or Vice President of Human Resources, or their respective designee. Unless mutually agreed otherwise, the parties agree to meet to discuss the grievance within fifteen (15) calendar days after the timely presentation of the grievance at Step Three. The Director of Human Resources or Vice President of Human Resources, or their respective designee shall render a ...

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