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Samaritan Medical Center v. Local 1199

July 18, 2010

SAMARITAN MEDICAL CENTER, PETITIONER,
v.
LOCAL 1199, SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, UNITED HEALTH CARE WORKERS EAST, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. McAVOY, Senior United States District Judge

DECISION & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Samaritan Medical Center ("Samaritan", "Hospital" or the "Petitioner"), commenced this action in New York Supreme Court, Jefferson County against Local 1199, Service Employees International Union, United Health Care Workers East ( "Union," or "Respondent") seeking to vacate an Arbitration Award pursuant to § 10(4)(a) of the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA"). See State Court Pet. [dkt. #1-3]. The Union removed the action to this Court, see Resp't's Notice of Removal [dkt. # 1], and cross-moved to confirm the Arbitration Award. Cross Mot. [dkt. # 11].

II. BACKGROUND

Samaritan and the Union were parties to a collective bargaining agreement*fn1 ("CBA") that governed the employee grievance process. This agreement provided, inter alia , for the availability of arbitration to resolve disputes between parties, and set forth the powers of the Arbitrator.

At the time of the events pertinent to this matter, Gary Green had been employed by Samaritan for approximately eighteen years as a radiology technician and computerized tomography ("CT") technician. In August of 2008, Thomas Shatraw, Director of Human Resources at Samaritan, was informed of concerns regarding certain conduct of Mr. Green that other employees believed was sexual harassment. Mr. Shatraw spoke with the employees that complained about Mr. Green's conduct. As a result of his investigation, Mr. Shatraw determined that the complained-of conduct, combined with the fact that Mr. Green had been previously warned not to touch co-workers, warranted discharge. Mr. Green was terminated effective August 21, 2008. Mr. Green filed a grievance with his Union. The Union subsequently filed a Demand for Arbitration. The parties selected Peter A. Prosper as the Arbitrator. The parties stipulated to the following statement of the issue: "Whether Gary Green was discharged for cause. If not, what shall the remedy be?"

At the hearing, many of the complaining witnesses could not remember specific dates on which they alleged they were subjected to inappropriate conduct by Mr. Green, and most did not promptly file a formal complaint of harassment. Further, the arbitrator determined that complained-of conduct by Mr. Green consisted of "[t]apping a person on her arm to get her attention, bumping into a woman's side, or rubbing a woman's back," most of which "the women [did] not object [to], [and] at times even ask[ed] for a back rub." Opinion and Award, Ex. I at 9 - 10.

After reviewing the testimonial and documentary evidence presented by both parties, the Arbitrator found that Mr. Green had not engaged in sexual harassment as that term is defined in federal and state employment discrimination law, but that he was guilty of misconduct by inappropriate acts toward female co-workers. The Arbitrator determined that the appropriate penalty would be Mr. Green's suspension without pay for 325 days.

Samaritan filed a Petition in New York State Supreme Court, Jefferson County pursuant to section 7511(b)(1)(iii) of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules to vacate the Award on the grounds that the Arbitrator exceeded his power by: (1) adding a mitigation requirement to the disciplinary provisions of the CBA in cases of unreported or late-reported inappropriate behavior, and/or in cases involving the inability by victims and witnesses to remember the exact dates and times of the inappropriate behavior;*fn2 and (2) ignoring a strong public policy requiring the prevention and prohibition of sexual harassment in the workplace.

As indicated above, the Union removed the action to this Court and cross-moves for an order to confirm the Arbitration Award. The matter is now before the Court on the parties' submissions.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The FAA represents a strong federal policy favoring arbitration agreements. "Congress enacted the [FAA] to replace judicial indisposition to arbitration with a 'national policy favoring [it] and plac[ing] arbitration agreements on equal footing with all other contracts.'" Hall Street Associates, L.L.C. v. Mattel, Inc., 552 U.S. 576, 581 (2008) (quoting Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 U.S. 440, 443 (2006)).

The Act [ ] supplies mechanisms for enforcing arbitration awards: a judicial decree confirming an award, an order vacating it, or an order modifying or correcting it. §§ 9-11. An application for any of these orders will get streamlined treatment as a motion, obviating the separate contract action that would usually be necessary to enforce or tinker with an arbitral award in court. § 6. Under the terms of § 9, a court "must" confirm an arbitration award "unless" it is vacated, modified, or corrected "as prescribed" in §§ 10 and 11. Section 10 lists grounds for vacating an award, while § 11 names those for modifying or correcting one.

Id. (footnotes omitted).

The Supreme Court has determined that [c]ollective-bargaining agreements commonly provide grievance procedures to settle disputes between union and employer with respect to the interpretation and application of the agreement and require binding arbitration for unsettled grievances. In such cases . . . the Court made clear almost 30 years ago that the courts play only a limited role when asked to review the decision of an arbitrator. The courts are not authorized to reconsider the merits of an award even though the parties may allege that the award rests on errors of fact or on misinterpretation of the contract. United Paperworkers Intl. Union v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 36 (1987).

"The federal policy of settling labor disputes by arbitration would be undermined if courts had the final say on the merits of the awards." Steelworkers v. Enter. Wheel & Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593, 596 (1960). "A motion to vacate filed in a federal court is not an occasion for de novo review ...


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