SW Legal studies in Business

Arbitrator May Reinstate Nurse Fired for Improper Care of Child Who Died Under Her Care
Description Appeals court upheld the reinstatement of a nurse, who was fired by a hospital for substandard nursing practice that contributed to the death of an infant in her care. Federal courts will not intervene in such matters since collective bargaining agreements are interpreted at the discretion of the labor arbitrator. Reinstatement did not violate public policy.
Topic Employment Law
Key Words Collective Bargaining Agreement; Arbitration; Reinstatement; Public Policy
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Hartney was the nurse on duty with primary responsibility for caring for an infant at the Boston Medical Center (BMC) who suffered extensive second-degree burns. The baby died while under Hartney's care. Two nursing supervisors reviewed the matter, questioning all involved and studying the records. They concluded that Hartney "engaged in serious substandard nursing practices." BMC fired Hartney. Her union submitted to arbitration a grievance about the discharge. The arbitrator found that she had been fired without just cause in violation of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and ordered her reinstated after a nine-month suspension. BMC sued to vacate the arbitrators award. The district court vacated the arbitrator's award as unenforceable because it violated public policy in Massachusetts that favored competent nursing practice and because the arbitrator exceeded her authority. The union appealed.

Reversed. The arbitrator's interpretation of the CBA was reasonable since it did not provide for discharge of employees in such instances. Courts can set aside an arbitrator's interpretation of a CBA only in rare instances. Massachusetts does not have an explicit, well-defined, and dominant public policy to prevent reinstate of the nurse who was discharged for substandard practice and, even if it did, discharge would not be justified because her actions were the result of clinical misjudgments, not malice, and she did not have a record of multiple bad acts.

Citation Boston Medical Center v. Service Employees International Union, 260 F.3d 16 (1st Cir., 2001)

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