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Sharp Healthcare v. Sharp Professional Nurses Network

March 22, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: M. James Lorenz United States District Court Judge


Currently pending are petitioner's motion to vacate an arbitration award and respondent's motion to confirm the arbitration award. The Court finds the fully-briefed motions suitable for determination on the papers submitted and without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7.1(d)(1).

A. Factual Background*fn1

Petitioner Sharp Healthcare ("Sharp") and respondent Sharp Professional Nurses Network, United Nurses Association of California, NUHHCE, AFSCME, AFL-CIO ("Union") are parties to a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"). Sharp employed Edna Daley ("Daley"), a member of the Bargaining Unit represented by the Union, as an intensive care unit ("ICU") registered nurse at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. Daley was injured on the job in December 2000, but she continued working until she was placed on complete medical leave in February 2006. In December 2007, Daley's condition was rated permanent and stationary.

Sharp has a written Accommodation Review Policy and Process. Based on that Policy, Sharp's Human Resources representative Debbie Prenatt scheduled an "interactive meeting"*fn2 with Daley, ICU Manager Cindy Stewart and Prenatt in order to determine if additional accommodations were available to Daley based upon her medical or physical limitations.

Daley requested Union representative Barbara Dent attend the interactive meeting. It is undisputed that Union representatives had accompanied bargaining unit employees to interactive meetings prior to Daley's request,*fn3 but when advised that Dent would be attending the interactive meeting, Prenatt responded that Union representatives were generally not permitted to attend this type of meeting and Dent would not be permitted to attend in this instance. The interactive meeting went forward without Dent's attendance. At the interactive meeting, Sharp determined that Daley's condition could not be accommodated in her prior ICU position and no alternative positions were available to her. As a result, Sharp terminated Daley's employment effective February 20, 2008.

Dent filed a grievance alleging that Sharp violated the CBA Sections 102, 601, 901 and 2302 when it refused to allow the Union representative, Dent, to attend the interactive meeting with Daley who had requested the representation because of potential adverse consequences concerning wage, hour and other terms and conditions of employment associated with such a meeting.

The matter went to arbitration with the Arbitrator finding against Sharp. The Arbitrator based her decision on Section 102 and Section 703 of the CBA.

B. Legal Standard

"The scope of review of an arbitrator's decision in a labor dispute is extremely narrow." Federated Dep't Stores v. United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 1442, 901 F.2d 1494, 1496 (9th Cir. 1990); see also Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 986 (9th Cir.), as amended, 275 F.3d 1187 (9th Cir. 2001). As the party chosen by the parties to resolve grievances under their CBA, the arbitrator is entitled to considerable deference, and her decision may be vacated only if it failed to derive its essence from the CBA itself; exceeded the scope of the issues submitted; violated an "explicit, well defined, and dominant" public policy; or was procured by fraud. Id.; Virginia Mason Hosp. v. Washington State Nurses Ass'n., 511 F.3d 908, 913-14 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing E. Associated Coal Corp. v. United Mine Workers of Am., 531 U.S. 57, 62 (2000); United Steelworkers of Am. v. Enter. Wheel & Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593, 597 (1960)).

The arbitrator's award may be vacated if she ignored the plain language of the CBA, or the arbitrator's interpretation of any of the relevant CBA provisions was not, on its face, a plausible interpretation of the contract. Virginia Mason., 511 F.3d at 913-914 (quoting Phoenix Newspapers, Inc. v. Phoenix Mailers Union Local, 752, 989 F.2d 1077, 1080 (9th Cir. 1993)). "Even if we were convinced that the arbitrator misread the contract or erred in interpreting it, such a conviction would not be a permissible ground for vacating the award." Id. (citing United Paperworkers Int'l Union v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 37-38 (1987) (footnote omitted). If a labor arbitration award draws its essence from the CBA, i.e., on its face it is a plausible interpretation of the CBA, then the courts must enforce it. The court's role is not to determine whether the arbitrator correctly interpreted the CBA but rather whether her decision was a plausible interpretation of the CBA. McCabe Hamilton & Renny Co., Ltd. v. International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 142, AFL-CIO, 624 F. Supp.2d 1236 (D. Hawai'i 2008).

An award draws its essence from the CBA when it is based on language in the CBA. See Stead Motors v. Automotive Machinists Lodge No., 1173, 886 F.2d 1200, 1205 n.6 (9th Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 495 U.S. 946 (1990))("This term [fails to draw its essence] is reserved for those egregious cases in which a court determines that the arbitrator's award ignored the plain language of the contract, that he manifestly disregarded the contours of the bargain expressed in outline by the collective bargaining agreement."); Jasper Cabinet Co. v. United Steelworkers of America, AFL-CIO-CLC, Upholstery and Allied Division, 77 F.3d 1025, 1028 (7th Cir. 1996) ("We will uphold an arbitrator's award based upon a misreading of the contract so long as the arbitrator's interpretation is derived from the language of the contract."); Sullivan v. Lemoncello, 36 F.3d 676, 683 (7th Cir. 1994) ("All that is required is that the arbitrator's interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement is derived from the language of the requirement."); Loveless v. Eastern Air Lines, Inc., 681 F.2d 1272, 1279 (11th Cir. 1982) (Awards not drawing their essence from the CBA reflect neither the language of the CBA nor the intent of the parties).

C. Discussion

After an evidentiary hearing and reviewing pre- and post-hearing briefing, Arbitrator Bickner found and concluded that Sharp violated the CBA when it refused to allow a Union Representative to attend and represent a bargaining unit member in meetings with the employer for the purpose of seeking accommodation to a bargaining unit member's medical or ...

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