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Steward Holy Family Hospital, Inc. v. Massachusetts Nurses Association

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 21, 2018



          Nathaniel M. Gorton United States District Judge

         This case arises out of a disputed arbitration between Steward Holy Family Hospital, Inc. ("the Hospital" or "plaintiff") and the Massachusetts Nurses Association ("the MNA" or "defendant") after the Hospital discharged one of its employees (a member of the MNA) for alleged misconduct. Plaintiff asserts that the arbitrator exceeded the scope of his authority under the Collective Bargaining Agreement ("the CBA") when he reinstated the employee and ordered that she receive back-pay. The Hospital now seeks an order vacating the arbitration award which the MNA urges the Court to confirm.

         Before the Court are plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment will be allowed and defendant's motion for summary judgment will be denied.

         I. Background

         A. The CBA

         Plaintiff operates an acute care hospital in Methuen, Massachusetts. Defendant is the authorized collective bargaining representative of the registered nurses employed at the Hospital. The Hospital and the MNA entered into a CBA which was effective from December 2013 through October 2016.

         Article XXXIII of the CBA, entitled "Discipline and Discharge", provides that a nurse who has completed a probationary period and acquired seniority may not be suspended, demoted, discharged or otherwise disciplined except for "just cause". That section also provides that discipline may include counseling, verbal warnings, written warnings, suspension and/or termination and that

[t]he Hospital may utilize whatever level of discipline it believes is appropriate depending on the circumstances, but it will make reasonable efforts to utilize progressive discipline, (emphasis added)

         Article V of the CBA, however, expressly retains the exclusive right of the Hospital

to discipline and discharge Employees for just cause . . . [and] to issue, amend and enforce reasonable work rules and policies not inconsistent with the provisions of this Agreement.

         Appendix G to the CBA explains that all existing employment policies applicable to hospital employees are incorporated into the agreement so long as they do not contradict an express term of the CBA.

         One such incorporated policy is the Hospital's Disciplinary Action Policy. That policy provides that employees who engage in certain behavior, such as "threatening, intimidating, or coercing fellow employees", known as "Group III" offenses, are subject to immediate termination from employment on the first offense. Group III incorporates by reference the Hospital's Zero Tolerance for Disrespect Policy which states that the Hospital

will not tolerate verbal, written or physical conduct by anyone who works or practices at [the Hospital] which . . . [c]reates an intimidating, offensive or hostile environment . . ., [d]isrupts the operation of the hospital or individuals working therein . . . [or] [d]amages the hospital's reputation in the community it serves.

         The policy defines "disruptive conduct" as, among other things,

[v]erbal or physical intimidation . . . [or] [a]ttacks, threats or other conduct (physical or verbal) directed at members of the medical staff [or] hospital employees . . . which are personal, inappropriate, or exceed the bounds of fair and decent behavior.

         Article X of the CBA, entitled "Grievance and Arbitration", sets forth a grievance procedure that may be used to resolve disputes between the Hospital and its employees and also provides for arbitration if a grievance remains unresolved. The parties agreed that the arbitrator's authority

shall be limited to the interpretation and application of the parties' Agreement. No arbitrator shall have the authority to add to, subtract from, or modify the agreement in any respect, or to substitute his/her discretion or judgment for that of the Hospital. The Arbitrator's decision on any duly submitted grievance shall be final and binding upon the parties and any aggrieved Nurse or Nurses, (emphasis added)

         B. The Discharge

         Maureen Bean was a registered nurse at the Hospital and a member of the bargaining unit represented by the MNA. During the course of her employment, Bean received verbal warnings several times for inappropriate behavior at work that violated hospital policy, including pulling a colleague's hair and profanely defying an order of her supervisor.

         Between January 28 and February 1, 2016, Bean called the home telephone of her colleague Nancy Waterhouse five times to pressure her to withdraw a request for vacation that conflicted with Bean's request for vacation time. On February 2, 2016, as Bean entered the hospital breakroom, she grabbed Waterhouse by the face and shook her head while laughing and saying "Did you get your vacation all straightened out?" After an investigation, the Hospital determined that, in light ...

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