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Sixth Circuit Affirms Labor Arbitrator’s Award – Reverses District Court

Sixth Circuit Affirms Labor Arbitrator’s Award – Reverses District Court

In Zeon Chemicals v. United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 72D (6th Cir., Feb. 13, 2020) the Sixth Circuit reinstated a labor arbitrator’s award. The employee Jenkins, a 22-year employee, was discharged by the employer, Zeon Chemicals, after an incarceration caused him to exceed the allowable absences under Zeon’s attendance policy. The union took the case to arbitration, and the arbitrator modified Jenkins’ discharge to a 30-day suspension, reset his attendance points, and awarded back pay. Zeon filed suit to vacate the award, and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky vacated the award on the ground that the arbitrator misread the agreement and thereby exceeded his authority.

The Sixth Circuit noted that its review of an arbitrator’s interpretation of a labor agreement is extremely deferential under Mich. Family Res. Inc. v SEIU Local 517M, 475 F.3d 746 (6th Cir. 2007). In this case, the court held the arbitrator’s award bore all the “hallmarks of interpretation” in that he explained the background of the dispute; cited relevant portions of the contract and policy; explained how each party interpreted the agreement; and evaluated how the agreement applied to the case. The court thus found the arbitrator had engaged in a good faith interpretation of the contract, and reinstated the award.

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