Justia U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation
Buffkin v. Department of Defense
Buffkin, a former teacher in the Department of Defense (DoD) school for the children of military personnel, challenged her termination. The collective bargaining agreement process for contesting adverse employment actions provides that any grievance will be mediated if requested by either party. A written request for arbitration must be served on the opposing party within 20 days following "the conclusion of the last stage in the grievance procedure.” “The date of the last day of mediation will be considered the conclusion of the last stage in the grievance procedure" for purposes of proceeding to arbitration.DoD denied Buffkin’s grievance. The union and DoD met with a mediator in December 2012. No agreement was reached. In July 2014, the union submitted a written request for arbitration. DoD signed the request and the parties received a list of arbitrators in August 2014. In March 2015, DoD listed Buffkin’s grievance as an open grievance and the parties held another mediation session. The union and DoD selected an arbitrator in January 2017. DoD then argued that the arbitration request was untimely. The arbitrator found that the union did not invoke arbitration within 20 days after the 2012 mediation concluded.The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded with instructions to address whether the union’s premature request for arbitration ripened into a timely request. Buffkin’s grievance was not resolved in the 2012 mediation; there was another mediation session in 2015, the last stage of the grievance procedure. Invoking arbitration in 2014 was premature, rather than too late. DoDs conduct and past practices indicate that it did not consider the arbitration request untimely. View "Buffkin v. Department of Defense" on Justia Law
AFGE Local 3599 v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Hamilton had been employed by the EEOC for 20 years, with no disciplinary problems, until one day in 2016, when, while engaged in mediation, he suddenly began using racial epithets, engaging in physical violence, and refusing to follow orders. The EEOC removed him from federal service. The union filed a grievance, which led to arbitration. During a hearing, the EEOC called 11 witnesses; the union called Hamilton. Although the arbitrator found that certain aspects of the EEOC’s case had not been proved, he credited the testimony of EEOC witnesses to conclude that Hamilton “had a major physical and/or mental breakdown.” Because Hamilton denied taking any of the actions he was charged with, the arbitrator concluded that Hamilton “did not remember.” The arbitrator found that the EEOC had not shown that Hamilton’s behavior had any negative effect on its reputation and had failed to consider that Hamilton’s behavior “was caused by his obvious medical condition,” and set aside Hamilton’s removal, awarding back pay. The arbitrator denied the union’s request for arbitration costs and attorney fees. The Federal Circuit vacated the denial of attorneys’ fees; 5 U.S.C. 7701(g) provides that an adjudicator may require an agency to pay the employee’s reasonable attorney fees if the employee is the prevailing party and the adjudicator determines that payment by the agency “is warranted in the interest of justice.” On remand, the arbitrator must reconsider the issue and include a statement of reasons. View "AFGE Local 3599 v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission" on Justia Law
United States Capitol Police v. Office of Compliance
Donaldson, a Capitol Police officer, was involved in an off-duty domestic incident. The Office of Professional Responsibility investigated and recommended termination. The Disciplinary Review Board agreed that Donaldson should be punished but recommended only a 45-day unpaid suspension. The Chief of Police decided to terminate Donaldson. After 30 days passed without intervention by the Capitol Police Board, the Chief’s decision was deemed approved and Donaldson was terminated (2 U.S.C. 1907(e)(1)(B)) Under a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the Chief’s termination decisions are subject to binding arbitration. The Union requested arbitration. The Police refused to select an arbitrator, arguing that it “would be in violation of a determination of the Capitol Police Board and its distinct statutory authority by consenting to the jurisdiction of any arbitrator.” The Union protested to the General Counsel for the Office of Compliance (OOC) that the Police violated section 220(c)(2) of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, 2 U.S.C. 1301–1438, by refusing to arbitrate an unresolved grievance and therefore committed an unfair labor practice. A hearing officer granted OOC judgment. The Board of Directors of the Congressional Accountability Office of Compliance reasoned that the Police is obligated to arbitrate disputes arising under its CBA unless it can cite clearly-established law that removes the dispute in question from arbitration; the Police’s legal arguments fell short. The Federal Circuit rejected an appeal by the Police and granted the OOC’s petition for an order of enforcement. View "United States Capitol Police v. Office of Compliance" on Justia Law
Boss v. Department of Homeland Security
The Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Discipline Review Board sent Boss a proposed 30-day suspension based on disciplinary infraction charges: failure to follow a policy related to overtime sheets, failure to follow supervisory instructions, and conduct unbecoming a U.S. Border Patrol Agent. The deciding official interviewed witnesses and received arguments from the agency and Boss and sent a decision letter, concluding that Boss should be disciplined on all three charges, but reducing the suspension to 15 days. Boss requested arbitration. During the arbitration hearing, the deciding official admitted that he had considered three documents that had not been provided to Boss or his union. The documents were agency policies regarding administratively uncontrollable overtime pay. The arbitrator agreed that the agency violated the contractual due process provision, and vacated Charge One. The parties agreed that the undisclosed documents solely relate to Charge One. The arbitrator analyzed Charges Two and Three on their merits, apparently concluding that he need not address Boss’s contractual and constitutional due process arguments, concluded that the agency carried its burden of proof, and reduced the discipline to a 10- day suspension. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The arbitrator properly treated the three charges separately and independently. View "Boss v. Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law
Sihota v. Internal Revenue Service
Sihota worked for the IRS for over 25 years. A 2011 IRS audit determined that, in 2003, Sihota reported a loss based on her purported ownership of NKRS, which was actually owned by Sihota’s son. The parties reached a settlement: Sihota acknowledged she had “acted negligently … resulting in an underpayment of ... $5341.00.” Sihota paid the assessment and penalty. The IRS terminated her employment, stating that Sihota was charged with either violating 5 CFR 2635.809 or 26 U.S.C. 7804, which requires the IRS to terminate any employee who willfully understates their federal tax liability, “unless such understatement is due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect.” The Union invoked arbitration. A hearing was held four years after the IRS contacted the Union about scheduling. The arbitrator concluded that inclusion of the loss on her return was not willful neglect, reinstated Sihota’s employment, imposed a 10-day suspension, and held that Sihota was not entitled to back pay, citing laches and the scheduling delay. The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded, stating that it could not discern which charges were properly considered or would support the suspension. If the only charge before the arbitrator was under the statute, the arbitrator could not impose any penalty. While the Union’s delay is inexplicable and might have barred the claim if the IRS could show prejudice, after allowing Sihota’s claim to proceed, the arbitrator cannot rely on laches to reduce her back pay. View "Sihota v. Internal Revenue Service" on Justia Law
Evans v. Building Materials Corp.
In 2009, RNB and GAF entered into an agreement under which GAF would promote RNB’s “Roof N Box” product, a three-dimensional roofing model, to building construction contractors affiliated with GAF. The agreement required the parties to submit disputes “arising under” the agreement to arbitration. GAF terminated the agreement after about a year. In 2016, RNB, together with its founder and president, Evans, brought suit against GAF based on GAF’s activities in marketing its own product that competes with the Roof N Box. The complaint alleged design patent infringement, trade dress infringement, and unfair competition. GAF moved to dismiss or stay the action pending arbitration. The district court denied that motion. The Federal Circuit affirmed, stating that GAF’s assertion that the arbitration provision covers the claims stated in the complaint is “wholly groundless.” The complaint challenges actions whose wrongfulness is independent of the 2009 agreement’s existence. View "Evans v. Building Materials Corp." on Justia Law
Muller v. Gov’t Printing Office
Muller, an employee of the U.S. Government Printing Office, is a union member. The union and GPO are signatories to a multi-party Master Labor Management Agreement, which creates a negotiated grievance procedure for GPO employees to contest adverse employment actions as an alternative to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board. Muller was reassigned within the GPO, resulting in demotion to a lower grade and a reduction in pay. Muller challenged his reassignment through the negotiated procedure. An arbitrator dismissed the grievance as “not arbitrable,” because a four-month deadline for holding a hearing, required by the agreement, had passed. The Federal Circuit reversed; the contractual provision does not require dismissal of the grievance in the event of noncompliance with the four-month deadline. The deadline is merely a nonbinding housekeeping rule to encourage timely arbitration, one that is addressed to the arbitrator as well as the parties. There is no past practice requiring dismissal under the circumstances of this case. View "Muller v. Gov't Printing Office" on Justia Law
Appleberry v. Dep’t of Homeland Sec.
Appleberry worked for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, under a collective bargaining agreement. Deeming her performance unsatisfactory, the agency placed her on a “performance improvement plan” and then found that she failed to improve. Eventually, relying on that failure, the agency fired her. When Appleberry brought her removal to arbitration, as authorized (but not required) by the collective bargaining agreement, the arbitrator concluded that she could not challenge the key bases for the removal, i.e., the agency determinations that she should be placed on the performance-improvement plan and that she failed under the plan; that the collective bargaining agreement, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 7121, prescribed the exclusive process, including time limits, for challenging those determinations; but that Appleberry had abandoned that process after initiating it through filing grievances, allowing the time for completing challenges to run. The arbitrator barred reconsideration of “issues that were raised in [her] earlier grievances, or that could have been raised but were not.” The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the arbitrator should not have barred consideration of the performance-improvement-plan issues raised in her earlier, uncompleted grievances; the arbitrator properly enforced the grievance process designated as “exclusive” in the collective bargaining agreement. View "Appleberry v. Dep't of Homeland Sec." on Justia Law
Garcia v. Dep’t of Homeland Sec.
In 2013, the Department of Homeland Security issued a final decision removing Garcia from the U.S. Border Patrol for misconduct. Garcia received notice the same day. Under 5 U.S.C. 7121(e)(1), Garcia had the option to appeal his removal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) or to invoke arbitration, under his union’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Article 34 of the CBA states that in cases involving adverse actions, such as removal, requests for arbitration “must be filed . . . not later than thirty (30) calendar days after the effective date of the action.” His union mailed a letter to the Agency requesting arbitration 28 days after the effective date of Garcia’s removal. The Agency did not receive this request until seven days later. After an arbitrator was appointed, the Agency moved to dismiss. The Arbitrator found the plain meaning of “filed” in the CBA requires actual receipt of the request for arbitration, relying on the definition of “file” used in federal court proceedings. The Federal Circuit reversed, holding that the request for arbitration need only be mailed within the 30-day time period. View "Garcia v. Dep't of Homeland Sec." on Justia Law
Higbie v. United States
Higbie, a Criminal Investigator for the U.S. State Department, contacted equal employment opportunity (EEO) counsel to complain of alleged reprisal by the Department for his activities, which he claimed were protected under the Civil Rights Act. Higbie successfully requested that his complaint be processed through the Department’s alternative dispute resolution program. Higbie repeatedly inquired whether the mediation proceedings would be confidential. State Department representatives confirmed that they would be. Higbie’s supervisors, including Cotter and Thomas, signed the mediation agreement, which included a confidentiality provision. The parties did not resolve their dispute through mediation. Cotter and Thomas provided affidavits to the EEO investigator that discussed Higbie’s statements in the mediation and cast his participation in a negative light. Higbie filed suit, claiming retaliation, discrimination, and violation of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act. The district court dismissed the ADRA claim. Amending his complaint, Higbie alleged a claim sounding in contract for breach of the confidentiality provision. The Court of Federal Claims concluded that Higbie had not established that the agreement could be fairly read to contemplate money damages, and dismissed his complaint for lack of jurisdiction under the Tucker Act. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Higbie v. United States" on Justia Law