United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division
For Wiregrass Metal Trades Council A.F. L-CI.O., Plaintiff: Jesse Cecil Gardner, Kimberly Calametti Walker, Thomas Matthew Loper, LEAD ATTORNEYS, The Gardner Firm, P.C., Mobile, AL.
For Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure, Inc., Defendant: Jennifer Carin Pendergraft, John Richard Carrigan, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, Birmingham, AL.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
W. Keith Watkins, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Plaintiff Wiregrass Metal Trades Council AFL-CIO (" Wiregrass" ), a workers' union within the meaning of the Labor Management Relations Act, filed suit on February 11, 2013, against Defendant Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure, Inc. (" Shaw" ) for breach of a collective bargaining agreement (" CBA" ). On August 21, 2013, Wiregrass's motion to compel arbitration (Doc. # 2) was granted (Doc. # 17), and an arbitrator heard the matter on December 5, 2013. On March 14, 2014, the arbitrator submitted her decision to the parties, ruling in favor of Wiregrass, and three days later Wiregrass moved to dismiss the present litigation (Doc. # 24). Shaw opposed Wiregrass's motion to dismiss and moved to vacate the arbitrator's award. (Doc. # 26.) Upon referral (Doc. # 35), the Magistrate Judge recommended that Shaw's motion be granted and the arbitrator's award vacated (Doc. # 39). Both parties timely filed Objections to the Recommendation. (Docs. # 40, 41.) After careful consideration of the record, the parties' briefs, the applicable case law, and the Recommendation, the court finds that the Recommendation is due to be adopted, Shaw's motion (Doc. # 26) is due to be granted, and the arbitrator's award is due to be vacated.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The court reviews de novo " those portions of the . . . [R]ecommendation[ ] to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
Wiregrass alleges that Shaw breached the parties' CBA when it suspended and ultimately terminated Jack Endicott, a Shaw employee covered by the CBA. With its complaint, Wiregrass filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, which was construed as a motion to compel arbitration. Shaw opposed the motion, arguing that it had no contractual obligation to arbitrate Wiregrass's claims because Wiregrass failed to perform the preconditions necessary to bring the grievance into arbitration. After reviewing the arguments of counsel and relevant case law, the court granted Wiregrass's motion, and the arbitration process began.
The parties jointly selected an arbitrator, and an arbitration hearing was conducted on December 5, 2013. During the hearing, the arbitrator narrowed the dispute to two central inquiries: (1) Was the grievance procedure properly followed? and if so (2) Did Shaw have just cause to terminate Mr. Endicott? After a day of testimony, an examination of the controlling CBA, and a review of various exhibits, the arbitrator determined that Wiregrass had properly brought the grievance into arbitration and that Shaw did not have just cause to terminate Mr. Endicott.
While the arbitrator recognized that Wiregrass did not adhere strictly to the time lines provided in the detailed three-step procedure through which a grievance would trigger arbitration review, she highlighted that the CBA contained a modification provision. Specifically, the arbitrator cited Article 8, Section 3 of the CBA, which provides that the right to " change, alter, amend, modify, add to, or delete from [the CBA] is the sole prerogative of the contracting parties." (Doc. # 26, Ex. B, at 15.) Reviewing the communications that occurred between Wiregrass's president and Shaw's labor relations manager from the time of Mr. Endicott's suspension to the filing of the present lawsuit, the arbitrator determined that the parties chose to invoke Article 8, Section 3's modification procedure and suspended the ordinary grievance-procedure time lines in light of Mr. Endicott's government investigations, military police charges, and magistrate hearings. The arbitrator then determined that once Wiregrass discovered that all inquiries and investigations into Mr. Endicott's actions were complete, " it acted in good faith in requesting that the tabled grievance" be reopened and timely and appropriately moved the grievance through Step Two and Step Three and into arbitration. (Doc. # 26, Ex. B, at 16.)
Because the arbitrator determined that Wiregrass had properly invoked the modified procedures of the CBA to bring its grievance into arbitration, she turned to the second inquiry -- whether Shaw had just cause to terminate Mr. Endicott. The arbitrator concluded that just cause required " that [Shaw] investigate before administering discipline and that the investigation be fair and reasonable." (Doc. # 26, Ex. B, at 17.) Applying this standard to the events leading to Mr. Endicott's termination, the arbitrator highlighted several perceived inadequacies in Shaw's conduct.
First, she noted that Shaw did not conduct its own investigation into Mr. Endicott's actions and, instead, relied entirely on the investigation of the military police. Second, the arbitrator found it significant that Shaw never gave Mr. Endicott the opportunity to tell his side of the story and ultimately terminated him based on charges that were ultimately thrown out by a magistrate judge. Finally, the arbitrator credited Mr. Endicott's testimony that he did not know the property in question was stolen and determined that Mr. Endicott could not " be said to have violated a policy prohibiting possession of government property when he did not know the property belonged to the government or that it had been stolen." (Doc. # 26, Ex. B, at 17.)
When considered cumulatively, these facts led the arbitrator to determine that Shaw did not prove by a preponderance of the evidence that it had just cause to terminate Mr. Endicott. Because the grievance was sustained, the arbitrator then turned to the crafting of a remedy. While all parties agreed that reinstatement would not be possible in light of the conclusion of Shaw's ...