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Wackenhut Corp. v. Local 1

December 26, 2006

WACKENHUT CORP., PLAINTIFF,
v.
LOCAL 1, SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Local 1 of the Service Employees International Union represents employees of Wackenhut Corporation who provide security services at a nuclear power plant in Dresden, Illinois. Local 1 asserted a grievance challenging Wackenhut's discharge of one of those employees, Tammy Nodine. An arbitrator sustained the grievance and ordered Wackenhut to reinstate Nodine and pay her lost wages. Wackenhut then filed suit in this Court seeking to vacate the arbitrator's decision, and Local 1 filed a counterclaim seeking enforcement of the decision. On July 17, 2006, the Court granted summary judgment in Local 1's favor and enforced the arbitrator's decision.

Local 1 has moved the Court under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 to impose sanctions against Wackenhut on the ground that its challenge to the arbitration decision was baseless. Though the case is a close one, the Court denies Local 1's motion.

Facts

The Court begins by summarizing the facts from its decision granting summary judgment in favor of Local 1.

Wackenhut provides security services at the Dresden nuclear power plant in Morris, Illinois. Local 1 is a labor union that represents the security officers employed by Wackenhut.

The collective bargaining agreement between Wackenhut and Local 1 reserves to management the "right to discipline, suspend, or discharge employees for just cause." The CBA also permits Local 1 to file grievances to challenge management's decisions and provides that grievances are to be determined by an arbitrator. Under the CBA,

[t]he award of such arbitrator shall be in writing and shall be final and binding upon the Employer, the Union, and the Security Officer involved. The arbitrator may consider and decide only the particular grievance presented in the written stipulation of the Employer and the Union and the arbitrator's decision shall be based solely upon the interpretation of the provisions of this Agreement. The arbitrator shall not have the right to amend, take away, modify, add to, change or disregard any of the provisions of this Agreement. In the event that an arbitrator shall determine that a Security Officer has violated an Employer rule, regulation, or policy for which said Security Officer was charged, the arbitrator shall not have the right to reduce, modify, or in any way alter the penalty assessed by the Employer.

Nodine's duties as a security officer included raising and lowering retractable vehicle barriers at the plant's entry gates. Wackenhut's procedures required officers to be "100 percent sure that the action to be taken is correct" before raising or lowering the barriers and advised officers that it treat failure to follow proper procedures as a "Level 1 incident," for which termination is a possible penalty.

On January 20, 2005, as a truck was entering the plant, Nodine received a radio call to lower the gate but hit the wrong button, raising the gate and, as a result, causing damage to both the gate and the truck. Nodine reported the incident to management. She was subjected to drug and alcohol tests, which she passed. Nodine also prepared an incident report and submitted to an interview by her supervisor. Following several days of internal review, Wackenhut terminated Nodine on February 7, 2005.

Nodine filed a grievance with Local 1 on February 10, 2005. The arbitrator who heard the grievance ruled in favor of Nodine, finding that that Wackenhut lacked just cause for termination. He directed Wackenhut to reinstate Nodine to her former or equivalent employment and reimburse her lost wages.

Discussion

Local 1 argues that Wackenhut lacked a colorable basis to challenge the arbitrator's award in court and filed suit only to delay enforcement of the arbitrator's decision, and that Wackenhut has a pattern of filing baseless challenges to arbitration awards. Wackenhut has not appealed the Court's ruling granting summary judgment in favor of Local 1 but contends that it had a colorable basis to challenge that decision.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(b) provides that an attorney's submission of a pleading, motion, or other paper to the court constitutes a certification that, based on reasonable inquiry, the document is not presented for an improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in litigation costs, that the contentions made are warranted by existing law or a non-frivolous argument for its modification, and that (in the case of a complaint like the one Wackenhut filed) the filer's allegations are or are likely to be ...


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