Court Turns Away Union’s Challenge To Arbitration Decision

When Santa Clara County, California issued Corrections Officer Vicky Vanderwall an 11-day suspension, Vanderwall’s labor organization, the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers’ Association, challenged the decision in arbitration. One of the Association’s arguments was that the discipline was void because a captain and not the Chief imposed the discipline. When an arbitrator rejected the grievance, the Association lodged the same “lack of authority to issue discipline” argument in the California Court of Appeals, contending that the Arbitrator’s opinion was unenforceable because it violated public policy.

The Court upheld the Arbitrator’s opinion. The Court found that “absent an express and unambiguous limitation in the contract on the submission to arbitration, an arbitrator has the authority to find the facts, interpret the contract, and award any relief rationally related to his or her factual findings and contractual interpretation. An arbitrator exceeds his powers by acting without subject matter jurisdiction, deciding an issue that was not submitted to arbitration, arbitrarily remaking the contract, upholding an illegal contract, issuing an award that violates a well-defined public policy or a statutory right, fashioning a remedy that is not rationally related to the contract, or selecting a remedy not authorized by law. In determining whether an arbitrator exceeded his powers, we must give substantial deference to the arbitrator’s own assessment of his contractual authority.

“[Here], the Arbitrator effectively determined that the Chief was the person who administered Vanderwall’s discipline – either directly, by concurring in the captain’s recommendation, or indirectly, by ratifying the decision. As the County aptly observes, that determination by the Arbitrator is factual in nature. In making the challenged factual determination, the Arbitrator was acting within his power. Consequently, the trial court properly refused to vacate the arbitration award.”

Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers’ Ass’n v. County of Santa Clara, 2011 WL 1005380 (Cal. App. 6 Dist. 2011).

This article appears in the June 2011 Issue