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Steward Holy Family Hospital, Inc. v. Massachusetts Nurses Association

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

August 1, 2019



          James F. Lamond, with whom Allison J. Zimmon and McDonald Lamond Canzoneri were on brief, for appellant.

          Joshua D. Nadreau, with whom Joseph W. Ambash and Fisher & Phillips, LLP were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Torruella, Lynch, and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.


         After Maureen Bean grabbed the face of a colleague at work, the Steward Holy Family Hospital ("the Hospital") terminated her employment as a nurse in the medical-surgical unit. Bean's union, the Massachusetts Nurses Association ("the Union"), then initiated grievance procedures against the Hospital, arguing that there was not just cause for her termination under the parties' collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The parties submitted the dispute to an arbitrator. After establishing that Bean had engaged in misconduct providing just cause for discipline, the arbitrator concluded that Bean's termination was nevertheless unwarranted and ordered that she be reinstated with backpay. The Hospital initiated this action to vacate the arbitrator's award, asserting that the arbitrator exceeded his authority under the parties' CBA. The U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts agreed and entered summary judgment for the Hospital. We now reverse.


         Both parties accept the general proposition that "an arbitrator's factual findings are not open to judicial challenge." El Dorado Tech. Servs., Inc. v. Union Gen. de Trabajadores, 961 F.2d 317, 320 (1st Cir. 1992). So, we summarize the facts as they are presented in the arbitrator's opinion.

         This case arose out of confusion surrounding the granting of vacation requests by nurses within the medical- surgical unit of the Hospital. Chris Ouellet, the supervising nurse in that unit, maintained a policy of resolving competing vacation requests based on seniority. In January 2016, Ouellet received vacation requests for the first week of March from Bean, two more senior nurses, and a junior nurse, Nancy Waterhouse. Ouellet denied Bean's request but instead offered her the second week in March, which Bean accepted. Upon inspecting the vacation calendar in the nurses' break room, Bean discerned that Waterhouse -- who had submitted an earlier request and had already paid a deposit on a vacation rental -- had received approval from Ouellet to take off the first week in March.

         Not pleased with this turn of events, Bean called Waterhouse's home numerous times, leaving multiple voicemails and requesting that Waterhouse return her calls before the two briefly "discuss[ed] the vacation situation without rancor." The following weekend, Bean called and left messages for Waterhouse on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to inform her of an upcoming union meeting that had been calendared to discuss problems related to scheduling vacations. Waterhouse did not return Bean's calls. Then, while Waterhouse and Bean were both clocking into work the following Tuesday, Bean confronted Waterhouse about her unreturned calls, squeezed Waterhouse's cheek, and, "talking like a baby, asked if everything worked out with her vacation." Waterhouse angrily told Bean to "worry about [her] own vacation." Later that day, Bean came up behind Waterhouse, ran a finger along her back, and said, "I didn't mean to upset you back there. We need to do something about this vacation policy." Waterhouse responded that she agreed that something needed to be done about the vacation policy but that she did not appreciate the phone calls or Bean's grabbing her by the face.

         Ten days later, Waterhouse reported the incident to the Hospital's Human Resources Department. This was not the first time that Bean's coworkers had reported her for misconduct. Four years earlier, Ouellet counseled Bean after she "angrily pulled the ponytail of a colleague." Ouellet again counseled Bean after she reportedly "demeaned a student nurse and offended [the resident nurse]." And just one week before the altercation with Waterhouse, Ouellet gave Bean a verbal warning for "profanely defying [Ouellet's] directive." Following an investigation into Waterhouse's allegations, the Hospital terminated Bean. It based the termination solely on its conclusion that Bean had indeed grabbed Waterhouse by the face -- an act that the Hospital deemed an "assault." The Union then initiated grievance proceedings against the Hospital on Bean's behalf, arguing that Bean was not guilty of misconduct and, alternatively, that termination was a disproportionate response to Bean's alleged wrongdoing.

         The CBA provides for the use of arbitration to resolve formal grievances related to the Hospital's "interpretation, application, or enforcement" of the CBA. Significantly, however, the arbitrator's authority to resolve grievances arising under the CBA is not plenary under the terms of the CBA. The text of the CBA as it bears on the scope of that authority is as follows:

Article V, Management Rights
o Section 1: "Except to the extent expressly limited by this Agreement, the Hospital retains the exclusive right . . . to discipline and discharge Employees for just cause . . . [and] to issue, amend and enforce reasonable work rules and policies not inconsistent with the provisions of ...

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