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Cook County v. American Federation of State

February 11, 1998

COOK COUNTY, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
AMERICAN FEDERATION OF STATE, COUNTY AND MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES, DISTRICT COUNSEL 31, LOCAL 3315, AFL-CIO, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County.

No. 96 CH 10165

Honorable Lester D. Foreman, Judge Presiding.

JUSTICE CAHILL delivered the opinion of the court:

Petitioner Cook County appeals from an order of the circuit court confirming an arbitration award in favor of respondent American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, District Council 31, Local 3315, AFL-CIO. Petitioner and respondent entered into a collective bargaining agreement, effective December 1, 1990, through November 30, 1993, with regard to assistant public defenders, grades I through IV. A dispute arose over the promotion of a grade II attorney and a grievance was filed with the public defender's office. The parties were unable to resolve the issue through the standard grievance process, and the matter was submitted to arbitration. An arbitration award was entered in favor of respondent and was confirmed by the circuit court. Petitioner has appealed, contending that the arbitrator exceeded the scope of his authority.

The dispute in this case centers around article V, section 3, of the collective bargaining agreement, which provides: "hen filling a vacancy through promotion, the most qualified applicant will be selected; in the event qualifications are relatively equal, seniority will control." In July 1992, a grade III attorney position became available and approximately 10 grade II attorneys applied for the position. On August 24, 1992, Cheryl Lipton, the least senior applicant, was promoted to the grade III position. Respondent filed a grievance on behalf of all grade II attorneys who had more seniority than Lipton, claiming that all the applicants were equally qualified for the position and that the person with the most seniority should therefore have been promoted.

On December 9, 1992, a step II grievance hearing was held before the first assistant public defender. The hearing officer ruled that Cary Berman was the most senior applicant at the time Lipton was promoted. However, in actions unrelated to this matter, Berman and five other grade II attorneys were promoted to grade III positions in November and December 1992. The hearing officer upheld Lipton's promotion and awarded Berman retroactive pay to August 24, 1992, the date Lipton was promoted.

Respondent, however, continued the grievance process to step III on behalf of the remaining grade II attorneys. Respondent argued that because Lipton remained in her grade III position, all of the other grade II attorneys with more seniority than Lipton should be promoted to grade III. On January 22, 1993, the hearing officer denied respondent's request, stating that such a remedy was beyond the scope of the collective bargaining agreement.

Respondent then submitted its grievance to arbitration. Arbitration hearings were held on April 13, 1995, September 12, 1995, and January 3, 1996. At these hearings, the parties stipulated to the following: (1) all of the grade II attorneys were equally qualified at the time Lipton was promoted; (2) the public defender's office violated the collective bargaining agreement when it promoted Lipton instead of the most senior attorney at the time; and (3) the sole issue to be determined by the arbitrator was the appropriate remedy for the grievance. Both parties claim that they stated during the arbitration hearings that they were not seeking the removal of Lipton from her grade III position.

On June 23, 1996, the arbitrator entered an award in favor of respondent, directing petitioner to remove Lipton from her grade III position and to promote the attorney highest in seniority other than Berman to the grade III position with retroactive pay to August 24, 1992. On September 20, 1996, petitioner filed a motion to vacate the arbitration award, and a hearing was held before the trial court on December 10, 1996. The circuit court confirmed the arbitration award and petitioner has appealed.

On appeal, petitioner contends that the arbitrator exceeded his authority by removing Lipton from her position and by promoting another attorney to grade III status. Petitioner also argues that the financial compensation awarded the newly promoted attorney constituted punitive damages. The object of arbitration is to achieve final Disposition of differences in an easier, more expeditious and less expensive manner than by litigation. Wilcox Co. v. Bouramas, 73 Ill. App. 3d 1046, 1050, 392 N.E.2d 198, 201 (1979). Judicial review of arbitration awards under collective bargaining agreements is extremely narrow. Amax Coal Co. v. United Mine Workers of America, 92 F.3d 571, 575 (7th Cir. 1996). Illinois law provides that judicial review of an arbitrator's decision is more limited than appellate review of a trial court's decision. Tim Huey Corp. v. Global Boiler & Mechanical, Inc., 272 Ill. App. 3d 100, 108, 649 N.E.2d 1358, 1364 (1995).

The Illinois Arbitration Act allows vacation of an arbitration award only if it was procured by corruption or fraud, partiality or misconduct by the arbitrator, or where the arbitrator exceeded the scope of his authority. 710 ILCS 5/12(a)(1) through (a)(3) (West 1992). There is a presumption that the arbitrator did not exceed the scope of his authority. Tim Huey, 272 Ill. App. 3d at 106, 649 N.E.2d at 1362. Therefore, if the arbitrator acted in good faith, the award is conclusive upon the parties. Tim Huey, 272 Ill. App. 3d at 106, 649 N.E.2d at 1362. In this case, petitioner does not allege fraud, partiality, misconduct or failure to hear evidence on the part of the arbitrator. So the only issue is whether the arbitrator exceeded the scope of his authority in determining the appropriate remedy for petitioner's violation of the agreement.

It is well settled that the scope of an arbitrator's authority is determined by the arbitration agreement or by the submission, which serves not only to define, but also to circumscribe, the authority of the arbitrator. Wilcox, 73 Ill. App. 3d at 1050, 392 N.E.2d at 201. If an arbitrator attempts to decide a question clearly not submitted to him, then he exceeds his authority and the award may be vacated. Wilcox, 73 Ill. App. 3d at 1050-51, 392 N.E.2d at 202. Where it is contemplated that the arbitrator will determine remedies for contract violations, courts have no authority to disagree with an arbitrator's honest judgment. United Paperworkers International Union v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 38, 98 L. Ed. 2d 286, 299, 108 S. Ct. 364, 371 (1987). As long as the arbitrator is even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority, the fact that a court is convinced he committed serious error does not suffice to overturn the arbitrator's decision. United Paperworkers, 484 U.S. 29 at 38, 98 L. Ed. 2d at 299, 108 S. Ct. at 371.

In the case at bar, the collective bargaining agreement defines the arbitrator's authority as follows:

"The Arbitrator, in his/her opinion, shall not amend, nullify, ignore or add to the provisions of this Agreement. The issue or issues to be decided will be limited to those presented to the Arbitrator in writing by the County/Designee and the Union. His/Her decision must be based solely upon his/her interpretation ...


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