843 F.2d 357 (9th Cir. 1988), 87-2053, Stead Motors of Walnut Creek v. Automotive Machinists Lodge No. 1173, Intern. Ass'n of Machinists and Aerospace Workers

Docket Nº:87-2053.
Citation:843 F.2d 357
Party Name:STEAD MOTORS OF WALNUT CREEK, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. AUTOMOTIVE MACHINISTS LODGE NO. 1173, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MACHINISTS AND AEROSPACE WORKERS, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:March 30, 1988
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Page 357

843 F.2d 357 (9th Cir. 1988)

STEAD MOTORS OF WALNUT CREEK, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

AUTOMOTIVE MACHINISTS LODGE NO. 1173, INTERNATIONAL

ASSOCIATION OF MACHINISTS AND AEROSPACE WORKERS,

Defendant-Appellant.

No. 87-2053.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

March 30, 1988

Submitted Feb. 11, 1988. *

David A. Rosenfeld, Van Bourg, Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld, San Francisco, Cal., for defendant-appellant.

J. Mark Montobbio, Severson, Werson, Berke & Melchior, San Francisco, Cal., for plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

Before WRIGHT, CHOY and NOONAN, Circuit Judges.

NOONAN, Circuit Judge:

This case involves the narrow but important issue of the kind of public policy that justifies a federal court in overturning an arbitrator's award. In 1977 Gale Rocks went to work as a mechanic for Stead Motors, a Mercedez-Benz dealership in Walnut Creek, California. On October 12, 1984 Rocks received a written warning that after installing a left rear tire, he had improperly tightened the lug bolts attaching the wheel to the car, with the result that the left rear wheel almost came off while the owner was driving at highway speed in San Francisco. In September of

Page 358

the following year Rocks got into an argument with a shop foreman about the right way of tightening lug bolts after tires were put back on a car. He was subsequently told by the company that he could not disregard directions from the foreman and must mount and tighten the wheels as instructed. On October 14 of the same year, Rocks replaced brake pads on the car of a customer. The customer reported a very heavy vibration in the front of the car as he drove home. An employee from the company checked out the car and found three lug bolts were loose on the right front wheel and four lug bolts on the left front wheel were loose and the fifth was missing. Rocks was the only person who had worked on the car.

The collective bargaining agreement in force between the new car dealers of Contra Costa County and the union provided that the employer might discharge employees for "just cause" and that no prior notice was necessary if the cause was "recklessness." On October 15, 1985 Rocks was fired for his recklessness in replacing the lug bolts on October 14.

Pursuant to provisions of the collective bargaining agreement, the union filed a grievance on behalf of Rocks. The collective bargaining agreement, section 33.05, then called for adjudication by a board made up of union and management representatives. Instead of following this procedure, the union and employer apparently agreed to by-pass it and to submit the matter to an arbitrator, Robert LeProhn. Although LeProhn's opinion asserts that he was named pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, the agreement itself does not authorize the procedure adopted.

LeProhn found that Rocks had failed to tighten the lug bolts on October 14, 1985; that his failure "constituted recklessness which warranted discipline pursuant to Section 5.02 of the Agreement;" and that he was discharged for this reason. LeProhn found that Rocks was not fired for any union activity. LeProhn concluded that Rocks' conduct warranted "severe discipline." But in his view "discipline is aimed at rehabilitation." Discharge was "too severe." Suspension for 120 days would suffice.

The arbitrator's award was handed down on November 3, 1986. As it required reinstatement of Rocks after the 120 days suspension was over, he became entitled to back pay for a large part of 1986...

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