The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Air Methods Corporation v. OPEIU on Tuesday, December 3, 2013.
This case arose out of an arbitration award granted in favor of a helicopter pilot whom plaintiff Air Method Corporation had terminated following an incident in April 2010. The pilot, Jeff Stackpole, is a member of defendant Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local 109 (“OPEIU Local 109”). Mr. Stackpole was represented by OPEIU Local 109 throughout the arbitration process. After the arbitration award was granted in Mr. Stackpole’s favor, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants Office and Professional Employees International Union (“OPEIU”) and OPEIU Local 109 in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado seeking to vacate the award. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court ruled in favor of defendants, thereby upholding the arbitration award. Plaintiff appealed.
The standard that courts apply to arbitral awards is among the narrowest known to the law. The Tenth Circuit’s review was extremely deferential, and it is with this deference toward the arbitrator’s award that the court considered plaintiff’s appeal.
The court initially considered whether the arbitrator’s award impermissibly altered or removed language from the parties’ collective bargaining agreement contrary to both a provision in the agreement forbidding arbitrators from modifying terms of the agreement and to Tenth Circuit law. Plaintiff argued there were three primary ways in which the arbitrator’s award impermissibly altered, ignored, or removed language from the collective bargaining agreement. The Tenth Circuit found none of these arguments persuasive. First, plaintiff argued the award failed to consider whether Mr. Stackpole’s actions qualified as “serious misconduct” for which “a Pilot may be immediately removed from the payroll and suspended or discharged without pay.” Second, plaintiff argued the arbitrator’s award impermissibly altered the collective bargaining agreement to require a pilot to engage in “willful and egregious” misconduct before he would be subject to immediate discharge. Third, plaintiff argued the arbitrator impermissibly ignored Section 37.3 and effectively removed it from the collective bargaining agreement, with the result that his award was contrary to the express language of the agreement. The court concluded that none of the alleged alterations or omissions of the collective bargaining agreement rendered the arbitrator’s award contrary to the express language of the agreement, nor did they violate the agreement’s proscription against modifying its terms. Therefore, the arbitration award drew its essence from the collective bargaining agreement and was upheld.
Second, plaintiff argued the arbitrator “intentionally disregarded and thus violated the clear, specific language of the contract, and created an escape hatch through which he could dispense his own brand of industrial justice.” However, the arbitrator found Mr. Stackpole had violated a company policy, which was found in the General Operations Manual and was closely related to Federal Aviation Regulations, and subjected him to a six-month suspension without pay as a result. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit held that plaintiff’s argument that the arbitrator ignored provisions requiring pilots to comply with company rules and policies and the Federal Aviation Regulations lacked merit.
Finally, the court held that the arbitrator’s award did not violate a clear public policy.