Arbitrator authority

The Fifth Circuit revisited the issue of an arbitrator’s authority to fashion a remedy — nominally an issue of labor union law, but of broader general interest — that it recently addressed in Albermarle Corp. v. United Steel Workers, 703 F.3d 821 (5th Cir. 2013). Observing that the parties’ CBA “did not establish criteria for determining cause to discharge,” it found that the arbitrator’s decision to suspend rather than discharge was within the bounds of an arguable construction of the contract.  United Steel v. Delek Refining, Ltd., No. 12-41119 (July 14, 2014, unpublished).

Arbitral authority and “cause” for termination

An employer terminated two employees for safety violations.  An arbitrator, appointed under the parties’ collective bargaining agreement, ordered them reinstated after a suspension.  The district court vacated the award, and the Fifth Circuit reversed and reinstated.  Albermarle Corp. v. United Steelworkers, 703 F.3d 821 (2013).  The Court found that “explicating broad CBA terms like ’cause,’ when left undefined by contract, is the arbitrator’s charge.”  Id. at 7.  It distinguished prior cases that left an arbitrator no discretion as to whether certain rule violations required discharge.  Id. at 5-6 (citing E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. v. Local 900, 968 F.2d 456 (5th Cir. 1992)).  The Court also rejected a challenge to the award on public policy grounds, reminding that “any such public policy must be explicit, well defined, and dominant.”  Id. at 10.  Cf. Horton Automatics v. Industrial Division of the Communication Workers of America, No. 12-40576 (Jan. 4, 2013, unpublished) (reversing confirmation when labor arbitrator exceeded limited scope).