ILNews

Appeals court upholds arbitration award

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed an arbitration award against Citizens Gas & Coke Utility today, ruling the arbitrator did not exceed her power in determining an employee was unjustly terminated and his widow was entitled to his life insurance policy through the collective bargain agreement.

In Citizens Gas & Coke Utility v. Local Union No. 1400, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 49A05-0612-CV-751, Citizens appealed the trial court's denial of its verified complaint and application to vacate arbitration award, or in the alternative, for the modification or correction of award. Citizens argued the arbitrator, Cynthia Stanley, exceeded her powers by considering an unwritten attendance policy to determine an employee was unjustly terminated and by awarding his widow $75,000 based on a life insurance policy; Citizens also argued Stanley wrongfully refused to hear evidence relating to the controversy.

Russell Hilt began working for Citizens Gas & Coke in 1981. He was severely injured in 1984 while working and missed a great deal of work in the years following the accident. In 1999, Hilt received a verbal warning for absenteeism, and in 2001, Citizens issued a "last chance agreement" that said he must keep an attendance record of 98 percent or better for two years.

In 2003, Citizens and IBEW Local 1400 entered a collective bargaining agreement, which included, "Absence reviews indicating discipline and disciplinary reports for absenteeism/tardiness will be returned to the Union, if, for a period of two years since the most recent absence review indicating discipline or disciplinary report for absenteeism/tardiness in the employee's file, the employee maintains a record with no further discipline for absenteeism/tardiness."

The union understood that to mean a person would start over with a clean slate if there were no more incidents for two years after the report was filed.

In 2003, Hilt's "last chance agreement" was expunged because of successful completion. Shortly thereafter, Hilt went into diabetic shock, fell, and injured his face. Treatment and maintenance of his diabetes caused him to miss a lot of work that same year. On Jan. 14, 2004, Hilt was terminated for absenteeism without any warning. At the time, there was an unwritten attendance policy that said employees were subject to progressive discipline for missing work: verbal; written; decision-making leave; and termination. The union filed a grievance on Hilt's behalf, which his Mrs. Hilt continued after his death in September 2004.

In arbitration, Stanley concluded Citizens did not have just cause for firing Hilt because he had successfully completed the "last chance agreement" and was not given any warnings as required by the unwritten attendance policy. Stanley awarded Mrs. Hilt the life insurance proceeds of $75,000 and other fringe benefits to be paid by Citizens. Citizens requested an additional evidentiary hearing to recalculate money to be paid and to try to prove if Hilt would have been able to actively work during those months after he was terminated, but Stanley denied the hearing. Citizens filed its application to vacate or modify award in Marion Superior Court, which denied the application.

The Court of Appeals affirmed Stanley's award in favor of the union and Mrs. Hilt. Stanley did not exceed her power in determining Hilt was unjustly terminated because the CBA had no provisions on what constituted the type of discipline required for excessive absenteeism. The unwritten policy was made written in 2004 after Hilt's termination and was commonly used by Citizens.

Because Hilt was unjustly terminated, it was well within Stanley's scope to award his widow the fringe benefits that would have been paid to her but for his wrongful discharge. The collective bargaining agreement specifically provided for life insurance, and Stanley ordered Citizens to pay it.

Citizens contends that Stanley violated Indiana Code 34-57-2-13(a)(4) in refusing to hear evidence relating to the controversy. This statute does not allow for the review of a trial court's denial of a party's request for an additional evidentiary hearing, only evidence from the actual arbitration hearing. Citizens had opportunities to present evidence during arbitration or call Mrs. Hilt as a witness, but did not do so.

Finally, the Court of Appeals ruled the necessary evidence to calculate the contractual damages owed to Mrs. Hilt were present at the arbitration via the CBA.
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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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