Court Should Not Become Involved In ‘Merits Of Arbitration’

Mercer County, Pennsylvania terminated Sergeant Walter Weir, who worked in the County’s jail. Weir’s labor organization, Teamsters Local 250, challenged the County’s decision in arbitration.

An arbitrator ordered Weir be reinstated. The Arbitrator concluded that the County had failed to prove that Weir had falsified records, as charged in the County’s termination letter. The Arbitrator found two complaining witnesses to be non-credible, and ordered Weir reinstated with full back pay.

The County challenged the Arbitrator’s decision in court. When a trial court overturned the Arbitrator’s award, the Union appealed to Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court.

The Appeals Court reinstated the Arbitrator’s opinion. The Court noted that Pennsylvania observes a two-part test in assessing arbitrators’ awards: Does the award “draw its essence” from the collective bargaining agreement, and, if so, does the award violate any “well-defined and dominant public policy.”

The Court found that “the Arbitrator was asked to interpret the ‘just cause’ provision and did so consistent with the contract. It is the Arbitrator’s role to interpret the terms of the contract. The Arbitrator’s award explained the reasons for interpreting the evidence and had a rational basis for determining that Weir’s conduct did not amount to just cause for discharge. The trial court should not have become involved in the merits of the arbitration.”

The Court also found that there was no public policy that warranted overturning the Arbitrator’s award. The Court observed that “there is no public policy that mandates the discharge of all employees who are alleged to have committed misconduct. The County has asserted no public policy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, let alone one that is well-defined, dominant and ascertained by reference to the laws and legal precedents, as opposed to being ascertained from general considerations of supposed public interest.”

County of Mercer v. Teamsters Local 250, 2008 WL 926571 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2008).

This article appears in the July 2008 issue