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Local 955, United Service Workers, IUJAT v. Services For the Underserved

August 31, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Conway Casey, United States District Judge


Local 955, United Service Workers, IUJAT ("Plaintiff" or "Local 995") commenced this action to confirm a labor arbitration award (the "Award") rendered pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between Plaintiff and Services for the Underserved, Inc. ("Defendant" or "SUS"). Defendant counterclaimed to vacate the Award, asserting that arbitrator Jack Tillem exceeded his authority when rendering the Award and that the Award violates public policy. Both parties now move for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED and Defendant's cross-motion is DENIED.


The following facts are not in dispute.

SUS is a human services agency that operates, among other mental health programs, a 48-bed single-room occupancy facility for mentally-ill adults, which is known as the Knickerbocker Residence (the "Knickerbocker"). (Def.'s Local Rule 56.1 Statement at 1 ("Def.'s 56.1 Statement").) SUS and Local 955, an unincorporated labor organization, are parties to a collective bargaining agreement (the "Agreement"), which provides for final and binding arbitration of "[a]ll disputes, complaints, controversies, claims and grievances arising between the Employer and the Union covered by [the] Agreement. . . ." (Pl.'s Notice of Motion Ex. 1.) The Agreement also provides that, once a dispute or other disagreement proceeds to arbitration, "[t]he arbitrator's authority shall be limited to the interpretation and application of the written specific terms" of the Agreement, and the arbitrator "shall have no authority to add to, subtract from, or modify the express provisions of [the] Agreement." (Id.)

SUS employed Jean Smith ("Grievant" or "Smith") as a maintenance technician at the Knickerbocker for two years preceding his termination. (Def.'s 56.1 Statement at 2.) Smith was a member of Local 955. (Id.) SUS terminated Smith on July 9, 2003, after he engaged in an altercation with a mentally-ill resident referred to as "O" by both parties for confidentiality purposes.*fn1 (Id.) Local 955 filed a grievance on behalf Smith following his termination.

Pursuant to the Agreement between Local 955 and SUS, a hearing was held before Arbitrator Tillem on June 4, 2004, at which time the parties presented witnesses and exhibits and argued their respective positions. (Def.'s 56.1 Statement at 7.) In his July 6, 2004 decision, Arbitrator Tillem described the relevant events leading to Smith's termination as follows:

In the early summer of 2003, "O" made several telephone calls to grievant's wife Arlene Smith while she was on the job at the Clubhouse, a different facility in Brooklyn operated by the employer. He knew her because she had spent several years working at the Knickerbocker Residence before transferring to the Clubhouse. Although it is not entirely clear that he made any explicit sexual remarks . . . the fact is that Ms. Smith had no outside relationship with him and the calls were most unwelcome. Ms. Smith told her husband about them.

On Wednesday morning July 9, 2004, shortly before 9 o'clock, grievant was engaged in tying up some boxes in the dining room. "O" was seated nearby on the other side of a partition eating a sandwich. As to what happened then, Steven Wilson, a security guard who happened to be in the dining room, testified: Grievant said to "O", I'd really appreciate it if you would stop calling my wife. Whereupon "O", hurling some expletives, angrily responded: Fuck that! Fuck you! She's nothing to you!

Wilson then left the room. . . . Upon reentering, Wilson saw "O" on his back on the floor, grievant straddling him and holding him down.

(Def.'s Notice of Cross-Motion Ex. A at 2-3.)

Smith testified that after "O" cursed him, he "continued to tie boxes with his back to 'O' while 'O' went on [cursing him] for about two minutes . . . ." (Id. at 4.) According to Smith, "O" then attacked him from behind, grabbing his T-shirt and punching him in the eye. (Id.) "Grievant went down, grabbing 'O' around the legs, pulled him down to a prone position and straddled him. That is what he was doing when the security officers rushed over and pulled them apart. 'I didn't punch him,' grievant said. 'I didn't want to hit him so I held him down.'" (Id.)

With these facts in hand, the parties asked Arbitrator Tillem to address two questions in his opinion: "Was the discharge of Jean Smith for just cause? If not what shall be the remedy?" (Id. at 2.) Arbitrator Tillem answered the former question in the negative, and the latter by replacing the grievant's discharge with a suspension without pay for time served. (Id. at 8.) As part of his reasoning, Arbitrator Tellem explained:

. . . I must confess that I am unable to shake the suspicion that almost any husband, confronted with the situation as grievant was, might well trod down the same foolish path himself. There but for the grace of God go I. To be sure, Sir Gallahad has long since passed from the scene and chivalry may indeed be dead. But think about it: grievant's wife comes home, tells him a resident at the facility is making some very upsetting phone calls to her. So grievant simply tells him the next day that he would appreciate it if the calls stopped. Wrong move? Most definitely. A dischargeable offense? I don't think so. (Id. at 7.) In addition, Arbitrator Tellem explained that Smith spoke to "O" in a "courteous manner," did not threaten "O," and absorbed a punch from "O" without returning the same; that management at SUS knew of "O's" telephone calls and did not take action, suggesting "a ...

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