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AMERICAN POSTAL WORKERS UNION v. USPS

August 23, 1993

AMERICAN POSTAL WORKERS UNION, AFL-CIO, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN H. PRATT

 In this action, plaintiff seeks to enforce an arbitration award settling an employment dispute between the United States Postal Service and one of its employees, Barbara Miller. Currently before the Court are defendant's Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment and plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, the oppositions, and the replies thereto. For the reasons given below, we grant defendant's motion and deny plaintiff's motion.

 I. Background

 This case concerns an arbitration decision entered on January 16, 1992. The parties are in disagreement over the terms of that decision and the actions this Court may take in enforcing that decision.

 The following facts are not in dispute. Plaintiff American Postal Workers Union ("APWU") and defendant United States Postal Service ("USPS") are parties to a Collective Bargaining Agreement ("Agreement") which establishes the terms and conditions of employment for USPS employees belonging to the APWU. That Agreement also establishes a four-step grievance procedure leading to arbitration before a neutral arbitrator in the event of employment disputes. Article 15, Section 4.46 of the Agreement provides that "all decisions of an arbitrator will be final and binding." See Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts As To Which There Is No Genuine Issue ("Pl's Statement") P 6.

 On January 29, 1991, the USPS placed postal clerk Barbara Miller on administrative leave after suspecting that Ms. Miller had misappropriated postal funds. An investigation of the possible misappropriation was conducted by the U.S. Postal Service Inspection Service. Based on the Inspection Service's findings that Ms. Miller had, in fact, misappropriated postal funds on six different occasions, the USPS terminated Ms. Miller's employment on April 5, 1991.

 The APWU filed a grievance on behalf of Ms. Miller, challenging both defendant's placement of Ms. Miller on administrative leave and termination of her employment. Plaintiff APWU contested the termination on the grounds that USPS, in relying on the Inspection Services findings, had failed to make the requisite independent investigation involving an interview with Ms. Miller. The grievance proceeded to hearings before Arbitrator Charlotte Gold on October 16, 1991 and January 13, 1992.

 In a decision issued January 16, 1992, Case No. S7C-3D-D 38401, Arbitrator Gold sustained plaintiff's grievance, finding that an extensive body of arbitral decisions in the Postal Service holds that

 
reliance solely on the Inspection Service's Memorandum is a violation of the just cause principle. *fn1" Just cause for discipline is a basic requirement of the National Agreement and Arbitrators have found that the failure to abide by this important principle constitutes grounds for overturning discipline. . . .
 
Where such a lapse occurs, a dispute such as this is decided purely on procedural grounds and the Arbitrator never reaches the merits of the case (in this instance, the question of whether the Grievant was responsible for misappropriating Postal funds). It goes without saying that under these circumstances, a less than meritorious grievance may well be sustained and an employee who does not deserve to be retained by the Postal Service is returned to work. That is the inevitable outcome, however, where fundamental rights are not provided.
 
Because Management did not act with just cause in this instance, the Grievant shall be returned to work with full backpay and all other rights restored.

 Def. Exh. 1 at 6-7.

 Following the Arbitrator's decision, the USPS sought to process the backpay award and to correct the procedural errors identified by the Arbitrator. Ms. Miller was told to report to her supervisor for a predisciplinary interview on March 2, 1992. After Ms. Miller failed to appear for that interview, the USPS sent her a second Notice of Removal, effective April 18, 1992. The second notice provided two reasons for the termination: the first was identical to the charges of misappropriation of funds listed in the former notice of termination, and the second was Ms. Miller's failure to appear at the March 2, 1992 interview.

 Plaintiff filed a grievance on April 7, 1992, challenging Ms. Miller's second Notice of Removal on the grounds that the January 1992 arbitration award precluded defendant from again attempting to terminate plaintiff's employment. That grievance is pending for disposition at the national level and has not yet been ...


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