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Osram Sylvania, Inc. v. Teamsters Local Union 528

July 16, 1996

OSRAM SYLVANIA, INC., PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
TEAMSTERS LOCAL UNION 528, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. (No. 1:94-CV-2986-GET). G. Ernest Tidwell, Chief Judge.

Before Kravitch and Birch, Circuit Judges, and Schwarzer,*fn* Senior District Judge.

Author: Kravitch

KRAVITCH, Circuit Judge:

Teamsters Local Union No. 528 appeals the decision of the district court reversing an arbitrator's decision in favor of one of its members, Lonnie Robinson. The union argues that the arbitrator was within the scope of his discretion in determining that Robinson was not fired for "just cause." We agree with the union and reverse the decision of the district court vacating the arbitration award. We remand to the district court for reconsideration of the union's motion for leave to amend its answer and assert a counterclaim.

I.

Robinson was a forklift driver for Osram Sylvania, Inc.*fn1 On February 5, 1994, he committed a safety violation by running into a stack of pallets while driving his forklift with an obstructed view. After the accident, Robinson reported an injury. On February 10, he was treated and given a "light duty slip," which restricted his duties. On February 16, he was given a "fit for duty slip" and was released to return to work on February 21. Upon receiving the slip from the doctor's secretary, Robinson said, "You all can take these papers and shove it."

When he returned to work, Robinson gave the facility manager, Alan Geller, the outdated "light duty slip." Upon learning that Robinson had in fact been cleared to return to his normal duties, Geller decided to review Robinson's employment for possible termination. At that time, Geller already had received a recommendation from Osram's safety coordinator to terminate Robinson based on a review of his overall safety record.

Geller discharged Robinson for the following reasons: (1) misconduct while receiving medical treatment, (2) unwillingness to work after being released by his physician, and (3) a poor overall safety record. Robinson did not receive a warning prior to his discharge.

Robinson's employment was governed by a collective bargaining agreement ("Agreement") between Osram and Teamsters Local Union No. 528. The relevant portion of the collective bargaining agreement, Article IX, § 5, provides, in pertinent part:

The Company may discharge any employee for just cause and shall give at least one (1) warning notice of the complaint against such employee to the employee and notice of the same to the Union, except that no warning notice need be given to an employee before discharge if the cause of discharge is so serious that the immediate removal of the employee from Company premises is, in the Company's judgment warranted.

If an employee discharge case is not settled within ten days, the Agreement provides for arbitration of the employee's grievance. Agreement, Article VIII. The arbitrator's decision is final and binding. Id. at Article VII, § 2.3. However, the arbitrator has no authority "to modify, amend, revise, add to or subtract from any of the terms of the Agreement" or impose an obligation not provided for in the Agreement. Id. at Article VIII, § 2.2.

As to each ground for dismissal, the arbitrator found that the company lacked just cause. His findings were as follows:

Misconduct While Receiving Medical Treatment: Telling a doctor's secretary to "shove it" in reference to the doctor's work return slip did not constitute just cause because it did not occur on the company's premises and the statement was not made in reference to a company employee, the statement caused no disruption in work, Robinson did not receive any warning about the consequences of his conduct, the punishment was inconsistent with the treatment of other employees, and the seriousness of the offense was not reasonably related to the severity of the disciplinary penalty.

Unwillingness to Work After Being Released By His Physician: "The apparent deception engaged in by [Robinson] is certainly serious and a violation of rules of ethics and Company policy. However, in light of the Company's policy of selective discipline and its failure to uniformly and consistently apply progressive discipline across the board ...


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