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Procter & Gamble Manufacturing Co. v. Association of Employees of St. Louis Plant

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

September 30, 2019




         This matter is before me on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff Procter & Gamble (P&G) moves to vacate an arbitration award (the Award) that reinstated Nick Hassard, an employee who P&G had previously terminated. P&G argues it is entitled to vacatur of the Award because the arbitrator exceeded his authority when he ordered P&G to reinstate Hassard. Defendant Association of Employees of the St. Louis Plant (the Union) moves for enforcement of the Award and argues that the arbitrator acted within the scope of his authority when he ordered P&G to reinstate Hassard. The parties do not dispute the material facts at issue or that summary judgment is proper in this case.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Nick Hassard, a member of the Union, began working at P&G in 2005. On July 27, 2017, P&G discharged Hassard after a series of disciplinary violations, the last of which was a third failure to lock out and tag out (LOTO) energy from a large piece of machinery a couple of days earlier. The final violation arose when Hassard briefly “broke the plane” of a machine without having followed the proper LOTO procedure. Based on Hassard's previous violations, the company moved Hassard to step four of its four-step Progressive Discipline System (PDS). At step four of the PDS, an employee is terminated. See Procter & Gamble Manufacturing Company's Statement of Uncontroverted Material Facts, ECF No. 24, at ¶5 (table outlining the PDS).

         After P&G terminated Hassard, the Union filed a grievance under Article XIV of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that governed the employment relationship between P&G and Hassard. P&G and the Union did not resolve the grievance internally. Because the grievance was not resolved, the grievance was submitted the dispute to a Board of Arbitration (the Board) according to the procedure in the governing CBA. That procedure sets forth that P&G and the Union may each appoint one arbitrator to the board, while the third arbitrator is picked from a rotating panel of arbitrators listed in the CBA. In this case, the third arbitrator was Josef Rohlik (the Arbitrator), who also drafted the Award.

         The question the parties presented to the Board was “the general question of whether or not the company had cause to terminate [Hassard] and if not what the remedy should be.” ECF No. 25-3, 21:15-19. After a hearing on December 6, 2017, the Arbitrator submitted his draft Opinion and Award to the arbitrators for P&G and the Union on April 17, 2018. The Award found that P&G did not have just cause[1] to terminate Hassard, and it ordered P&G to reinstate Hassard without back pay. The Union's arbitrator, Michael Reilman, concurred in the Award on April 23, 2018, making it final and binding on the parties. See CBA, ECF No. 25-1, at 38 (page 34 in original document) (“The decision of any two of the three arbitrators shall be final and binding upon the Employer and the Union.”). As of the cross-filings for summary judgment in this case, P&G has not reinstated Hassard.


         a. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Gilkerson v. Nebraska Colocation Centers, LLC, 859 F.3d 1115, 1118 (8th Cir. 2017) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). At the summary judgment stage, “[a]ll facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Id The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis of its motion and identifying those portions of the affidavits, pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file which it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The nonmoving party may not rest on his pleadings but must produce sufficient evidence to support the existence of the essential elements of his case on which he bears the burden of proof. Id at 324.

         b. Arbitration

         A court's review of an arbitration award is “extremely limited.” United Food & Comm Workers v. Shop ‘N Save Warehouse Foods, Inc., 113 F.3d 893, 894 (8th Cir.1997). Courts give “substantial deference to labor arbitration awards because federal policy favors the resolution of private labor disputes by arbitration to which the parties agreed.” Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. v. United Food & Commercial Workers, 739 F.3d 1136, 1139 (8th Cir. 2014). “[A]s long as the arbitrator is even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority, that a court is convinced he committed serious error does not suffice to overturn his decision.” Id at 1140 (quoting United Paperworkers Intl Union v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 38 (1987)).

         For example, the court may not disturb the arbitrator's 'view of the facts.” Alvey, Inc. v. Teamsters Local Union No. 688, 132 F.3d 1209, 1212 (8th Cir.1997). Indeed, it may not revisit the merits of an award even if it believes the arbitrator “committed serious error” when interpreting the CBA at issue. United Paperworkers Intl Union v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 38 (1987). “An arbitrator's award must be enforced as long as he is arguably construing or applying the collective bargaining agreement rather than dispensing his own brand of industrial justice.” Homestake Mining Co. v. United Steelworkers of America, 153 F.3d 678, 680 (8th Cir.1998) (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted). That standard is met as long as the award “draws its essence from” the governing CBA. IntT Paper Co. v. United Paperworkers IntT Union, 215 F.3d 815, 817 (8th Cir.2000).

         III. Analysis

         To determine whether vacatur is warranted in this case, I consider two issues. First, I review the factual record and the Award to determine whether the Arbitrator acted within the scope of his authority based on the question the parties presented to the Board. Second, I evaluate whether the Award is “arguably construing or applying” the CBA between the parties. Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., 739 F.3d at 1139.

         a. The Award Did Not Exceed the Scope of the ...

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