United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. BOASBERG United States District Judge.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority fired Seyoum
Haile after an investigation into a fatal accident revealed
that he had misrepresented his maintenance work on Metrorail
tunnel fans. His union - Plaintiff Local 689 - contested this
termination and ultimately secured an arbitral award that
mitigated his penalty to a six-month suspension without pay.
The Authority, however, refused to let Haile return to work.
Plaintiff thus brought this action to enforce the Award, and
Defendant responded by seeking to vacate it. As the Award
meets the low bar required for confirmation, the Court has
little choice but to grant Local 689' s Motion.
facts required to evaluate these Cross-Motions are
straightforward. The Court first describes Haile's
employment and termination. The following three sections then
respectively discuss the Award, a related arbitral award, and
the present litigation.
Employment and Termination
2002, WMATA hired Haile as a General Equipment Mechanic to
work on the air-circulation fans that ventilate Metrorail
tunnels and, in an emergency, prevent the accumulation of
smoke therein. See ECF No. 9 (Motion to Confirm) at
4; id, Exh. 1 (Borchini Award) at 2, 4. Because Haile often
did this job without direct supervision, the Authority
required that he keep a daily log of his activities.
Id. at 11.
years in, Haile's logbook caught him in a lie. Although
he reported to WMATA that he had spent a particular day
troubleshooting a fan leak, he had actually driven across
town to his cousin's home, where a parking ticket on his
WMATA-owned vehicle tipped the Authority off to his true
location. Id. Haile then compounded his misdeed by
making false statements during the subsequent investigation
into this discrepancy. Id. As a result, WMATA
suspended him for ten days. Id.
the next several years, these events appeared to have
chastened him. In particular, Haile executed his
"primary responsibility" to conduct "monthly
tunnel fan preventative maintenance inspections (PMis)"
without apparent issue. Id. To complete these PMIs,
he had to visually examine a fan, test its functioning, and
document the completion of certain tasks on a checklist. Li
at 4. The key testing portion of the protocol required that
he turn the fan on both locally - via a manual switch - and
remotely - by calling an operator at the Rail Operations
Control Center (ROCC). Id. at 5.
ROCC operator would then control the fan through specific
tasks as Haile observed its functioning. Id. The
veneer on Haile's image of reform, though, began to peel
away on January 12, 2015. That day, an electrical malfunction
in a metro tunnel caused a train to fill with smoke,
resulting in the death of one passenger and the
hospitalization of several others. Id. at 1. During
this emergency, a ventilation fan - on which Haile had
supposedly performed PMIs - turned on remotely, ran without
incident for several hours, but then burned out. Id.
this malfunction did not cause the passengers' injuries,
a federal investigation into the tragedy uncovered evidence
that Haile had again been misrepresenting his work.
Id. at 1. Upon inspection, WMATA's
central-computer archives revealed that the burned-out fan
had not been operated locally or remotely on September 24,
October 3, or November 6, 2014, even though Haile had filled
out PMI checklists showing that he had completed the testing
on those dates. Id. at 17. (On the last date,
though, an audio recording did at least indicate that Haile
and his junior associate, Michael Binding, had tried
unsuccessfully to get a ROCC operator to run through the
required protocol. Id.)
January 20, 2015, the investigators notified the Authority of
these findings. Id. at 1. WMATA, in response,
launched its own inquiry, which included a records review and
interviews with both Haile and Binding. Id. at 2. In
the end, the Authority terminated Haile for submitting
inaccurate maintenance logs and making untruthful statements
during the investigative interviews (again), but Binding
received only a 3-day suspension for his role. Id.
Grievance and Arbitration
- Haile's union -timely challenged his termination under
the grievance provisions of its Collective Bargaining
Agreement with WMATA. Id. at 3. The parties,
accordingly, took their disagreement to a three-person
arbitral panel that they tasked with deciding whether Haile
"was discharged for sufficient cause and, if not, what
shall be the remedy." Id. at 3.
April 4, 2016, that panel returned its 2-1 verdict in an
"Opinion and Award" that "sustained in part
and denied in part" his penalty. Id. at 22. The
arbitral chair explained that, while the Authority had
"sufficient cause" to punish Haile, the price for
his actions should be "mitigated to a 180-day suspension
without pay." Id. at 17, 22. The chair, in
justifying this conclusion, first recognized that Haile's
misconduct was only a small part of systemic maintenance
issues at WMATA that its management had "condoned."
Id. at 18-20 (describing acceptance by management of
blank or incomplete checklists). He also discounted
Haile's "dated" prior offense for leaving the
job without permission as being remote and distinct from the
current one. Id. at 18-19. Having done so, the
arbitrator further resolved that any appropriate penalty now
had to be "rehabilitative, rather than punitive, "
and a weaker penalty would likely be sufficient in this
context to deter any future misconduct on Haile's part.
Id. at 22. Finally, the chair looked to mitigating
circumstances that he believed warranted greater leniency,
such as Binding's lighter penalty and the difficulties
that mechanics like Haile experienced in getting ROCC
operators to run through the PMI protocol. Id. (The
dissenting view is not presented in the record.)
closing, the Opinion also noted that the panel
"retain[ed] jurisdiction of th[e] case for 30 days,
in the event of unresolved issues."
Id. (emphasis added). According to the record in
this case, however, those 30 days elapsed without either
party's returning with any problem to the panel. In fact,
it seems that neither the Union nor WMATA ever gave any
indication to the arbitrators that unresolved issues remained
as to the remedy prescribed by the Award.
of this remedy nevertheless required the resolution of
certain ancillary issues. Most notably, because Haile's
new penalty consisted of only six months without pay, and he
had been out of work for much longer by this time, the
Authority needed to pay him for that additional period. On
May 16, several days after the panel's jurisdiction had
lapsed, the Authority thus sent his Union a memorandum
entitled "Implementation of Arbitration Award- Seyoum
Haile, " which laid out its calculation of these back
wages. See ECF No. 9-2 (Affidavit of Douglas Taylor
with exhibits) at 4 (Memorandum from Union to WMATA).
Union, however, disputed this sum. See Id.
at 7-8 (Letter on May 23, 2016, from Douglas Taylor to Donna
Gaffney). In an effort to work out the issue, the two parties
then exchanged a few rounds of emails over several weeks
about how to account for certain side-work that Haile had
done during his absence. Id. at 10-18 (Emails
between Taylor and Gaffney from May to June 2016).
these exchanges, the Authority never indicated that it
planned to challenge the mitigation of Haile's punishment
in the underlying Award. Id. Quite the contrary, in
at least one email, the Union inquired as to why Haile had
still not been put back on the work schedule, and WMATA
seemed surprised to learn that this had not yet occurred.
Id. at 15 (Emails between Gaffney and Taylor on June
6, 2016). That same Authority employee reported back to the
Union three days later - on June 9, ...