South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Arbitration Award Vacated When Arbitrator Fails to Follow Terms of Contract
Description Appeals court held that when an arbitrator fails to constrain the basis for an award to the terms of the agreement between the parties to arbitration, then the award may be vacated as the arbitrator has exceeded the scope of authority.
Topic Alternate Dispute Resolution
Key Words Arbitration; Union; Award; Judicial Review; Vacate
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Burmeister, a union member, worked for Boise Cascade for 11 years. After years of missing work, coming to work drunk, and other problems that resulted in numerous disciplinary proceedings, Burmeister was fired. The union protested her dismissal, so it was referred to binding arbitration under the collective bargaining agreement. The arbitrator ordered her reinstated with full seniority and back pay. Boise sued in federal court. The district court vacated the arbitrator's award, finding that the arbitrator failed to follow the terms of the collective bargaining agreement regarding termination for cause. The union appealed.

Affirmed. A court must confirm an arbitral award even if the arbitrator committed a serious error, so long as the arbitrator is applying the contract and is acting within the scope of his authority. However, an arbitrator is not free to alter or amend the parties' agreement, unless expressly authorized to do so. The arbitrator construed the agreement to prohibit violations only of written work rules and failed to discuss the actual language of the agreement. He failed to base his decision on the terms of the agreement. He attempted "to dispense his own brand of industrial justice" by undertaking a "just cause" analysis rather than following the terms of the agreement. Hence his award was not based on the contract and is to be vacated.

Citation Boise Cascade Corp. v. Paper Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers, Local 7-0159, 309 F.3d 1075 (8th Cir., 2002)

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