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. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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