In Constellium Rolled Products Ravenswood LLC v. United Steelworkers (4th Cir., No. 20-1759, 11/29/21), the employer Constellium sought to vacate an arbitrator’s award in favor of the union. In the underlying arbitration, the union had contested the employer’s unilateral change in pension benefits. However, the employer argued in arbitration that the union’s grievance was barred by the doctrine of res judicata based on a prior federal court decision between the parties on the issue of pension benefits, although it arose under a prior collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”). The arbitrator held the previous court decision was not res judicata, and that the employer had violated the current CBA.
The district court confirmed the arbitrator’s award, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. The court held the issue of res judicata is a procedural question for the arbitrator’s determination. Additionally, while recognizing that manifest disregard of the law is a ground for vacatur under the Federal Arbitration Act, under the deferential standards for affirming arbitrators’ awards, there was no basis for vacatur in this case.