The Indiana Court of Appeals on Thursday declined Madison County’s request that it correct or vacate an arbitrator’s award in favor of two county highway department employees. The appeals court concluded the county circumvented the collective bargaining agreement when it discharged the two employees.
Scott Amos and Travis Benfield were truck drivers for the Madison County Highway Department and president and vice president, respectively, of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 3609. The opinion states that the two loafed on the job for two consecutive days and took an excessively long lunch break on the third day, but the county waited until the third day to impose any discipline and later determined the two should be discharged for what it claimed were major infractions.
The matter went to arbitration, where the arbitrator reduced the discipline to a five-day unpaid layoff. The arbitrator found that the misconduct amounted to Class B minor infractions under the CBA and not major infractions that warrant dismissal as the county alleged.
Then, the county sought relief from the trial court, but it declined to vacate or correct the arbitrator’s award.
The COA pointed out that the county in its appeal does not challenge the arbitrator’s authority to determine that the offenses committed by the employees were actually Class B minor infractions. The judges also pointed out that the CBA mandates progressive discipline for Class B minor infractions and the county did not follow that mandate here.
“The County was put on notice that the Employees were loafing on June 23, but instead of promptly taking disciplinary action for that class B minor infraction, it waited until after the Employees committed two additional class B minor infractions to do so. This procedure circumvented the CBA’s progressive discipline scheme and deprived the Employees of adequate notice and an opportunity to reform their conduct. Under these circumstances, we find ample justification for the arbitrator’s due process concerns, which are drawn from the essence of the CBA. Also, as the Union points out, the CBA states that the commission of a third class B minor infraction results in an employee being ‘Subject to Discharge’; it does not provide for automatic discharge,” Judge Terry Crone wrote in Madison County Board of Commissioners and Madison County Highway Department v. American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 3609, 33A05-1505-PL-409.
“And finally, the CBA does not prohibit an arbitrator from modifying an employee’s punishment; it merely prohibits modification of the CBA itself. The arbitrator did not modify the CBA by imposing a lesser punishment than discharge in this case.”