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Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. International Association of Sheet M Air, Rail

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

November 21, 2019

UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SHEET METAL, AIR, RAIL, AND TRANSPORTATION WORKERS (SMART) TRANSPORTATION DIVISION, Defendant. INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SHEET METAL, AIR, RAIL AND TRANSPORTATION WORKERS -TRANSPORTATION DIVISION, Petitioner,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          BRIAN C. BUESCHER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on judicial review of the administrative decision of an arbitration board pursuant to the Railway Labor Act (RLA), 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. Filing 19; Filing 20.[1] Union Pacific Railroad Company (“Union Pacific”) seeks to vacate the award issued by the arbitration board while International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers - Transportation Division (“SMART”) seeks to enforce the award. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court will grant SMART's Motion for Summary Judgment, Filing 19, will deny the Motion for Summary Judgment filed Union Pacific Railroad Company, Filing 20, and will uphold the arbitration award.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The parties do not dispute the material facts underlying this case.

         Matthew Lebsack has worked for Union Pacific for eighteen years, most recently in the position of engineer. Filing 18-6 at 274-75. On November 20, 2016, while at work, Lebsack defecated on a train-car knuckle, [2] threw feces-covered toilet paper out the locomotive window, and informed his manager he had left a “present” for him. Filing 18-2 at 64-65, 238. Lebsack did this even though the train restroom was only a few feet away. Filing 18-2 at 239-40. Lebsack's coworkers cleaned the feces from the knuckle using bottled water and paper towels. Filing 18-2 at 66.

         As a result of this incident, Union Pacific issued a letter informing Lebsack it was charging him with a violation of company rules and requiring him to appear for an investigation. Filing 18-2 at 58. Specifically, Union Pacific alleged Lebsack had violated Rule 1.6 of its Policy for Managing Agreement Professionals for Success (MAPS). Filing 18-2 at 58. Rule 1.6 states:

Conduct, Employees must not be: Careless of the safety of themselves or others, Negligent, Insubordinate, Dishonest, Immoral, Quarrelsome or Discourteous. Any act of hostility, misconduct, or willful disregard or negligence affecting the interest of the company or its employees is cause for dismissal and must be reported. Indifference to duty or to the performance of duty will not be tolerated.

Filing 18-3 at 50; Filing 18-3 at 10. MAPS also provides that “[e]mployees may be removed from service and subject to potential dismissal from employment for a single violation of Rule 1.6, Conduct, or other serious policy or rule violations.” Filing 18-3 at 50 (footnote omitted).

         Lebsack contacted SMART for union representation at the investigation hearing. Filing 18-2 at 50, 52-53. At the hearing, Lebsack admitted to the incident and apologized for his behavior. Filing 18-2 at 234, 285. Lebsack also introduced evidence of mitigating circumstances, namely that he was suffering from physical and mental health complications at the time of the incident including irritable bowel syndrome and that his wife had just left him. Filing 18-2 at 234, 254, 265, 285.

         Following the hearing, Union Pacific terminated Lebsack for having violated MAPS Rule 1.6. Filing 18-2 at 23. SMART timely appealed Lebsack's termination and the matter was referred to a public law board for arbitration pursuant to the RLA. See45 U.S.C. § 153; Filing 18-2 at 1-11. The Board heard arguments from both SMART and Union Pacific and then issued an Interim Award reinstating Lebsack to his position as engineer. Filing 18-6 at 269. It stated:

Lebsack[] shall be returned to service on a last chance basis, without any back pay or benefits, on the condition precedent that he successfully completes a fitness-for-duty examination that shall include both a physical and a psychological evaluation. If [Lebsack] is found medically and psychologically fit to return to duty, any future misconduct such as what occurred on November 20, 2016, will result in [his] dismissal from service.

Filing 18-6 at 269.

         Shortly thereafter, the Board issued its Amended Final Award which upheld the determination of the Interim Award and set forth the rationale for the decision. Filing 18-6 at 274-77. The Board reasoned that termination was unduly harsh given Lebsack's medical issues and history of mental illness, exacerbated by his recent marital issues. Filing 18-6 at 276-77. It stated, “While we find that [Union Pacific] had substantial evidence to sustain the charges, this Board further finds that in light of [Lebsack]'s 18 years' service with limited discipline, and given the aforementioned mitigating factors, dismissal was excessive.” Filing 18-6 at 277. It concluded by emphasizing that “such conduct in the future cannot be tolerated nor excused.” Filing 18-6 at 277.

         On January 23, 2019, Union Pacific filed a Petition to Vacate the arbitration award in the lead case in this Court and SMART filed a Petition to Enforce the Board's decision in the member case. Filing 1; Filing 1 in case 8:19-CV-50. Following consolidation of the cases, the parties filed a copy of the administrative record ...


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