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Class, Inc. v. Service Employees International Union

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

October 24, 2019

Class, Inc., Plaintiff,
Service Employees International Union, Local 509, Defendant.


          Nathaniel M. Gorton United States District Judge

         This case arises out of a disputed arbitration between Class, Inc. (“Class”, “the employer” or “plaintiff”) and the Service Employees International Union, Local 509 (“SEIU”, “the Union” or “defendant”) after Class discharged one of its employees (a member of the Union) for alleged misconduct. Class asserts that the arbitrator exceeded the scope of her authority under the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“the CBA”) and applicable law when she reinstated the employee and ordered that he receive backpay. The plaintiff now seeks an order vacating the arbitration award which the Union urges the court to confirm.

         Before the Court are motions of both plaintiff and defendant for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings will be denied and defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings will be allowed.

         I. Background

         A. The CBA

         Plaintiff is a Massachusetts corporation which provides services to adults with special needs. Defendant is the authorized collective bargaining representative of certain employees of Class. Class and the Union entered into a CBA which was effective from January, 2015, through June, 2017.

         Article VII of the CBA, entitled “Discipline and Discharge”, provides that an employee who has completed his probationary period may not be disciplined except for just cause. Under Article IV, however, the employer expressly retains the exclusive right

except as specifically limited by an express provision of this Agreement... [to] suspend, discharge or discipline employees for just cause...

         Article VIII of the CBA, entitled “Grievance and Arbitration”, sets forth the grievance procedure that may be used to resolve disputes between the employer and its employees and provides for binding arbitration if a grievance remains unresolved. The parties agreed that the arbitrator's authority shall be confined exclusively to the interpretation and/or application of the specific provisions of this agreement. The arbitrator shall have no authority to add to, detract from, alter, amend, or modify a provision of this agreement...

         The other relevant provision of the CBA, Article XXXIII entitled “Investigations”, describes the process for investigating employee misconduct:

         Employees... who are alleged to have mistreated or abused an individual will be reported to the DPPC [Disabled Persons Protection Commission, a state agency]. Any employee in this situation will be placed on an unpaid leave of absence....An internal investigation into the situation will be conducted after which the employer will determine whether or not disciplinary action is warranted. Nothing in this article shall limit the Agency's right to discipline employees for just cause at any time regardless of the status of any governmental investigation.

         B. The Discharge

         Orlando Batista-Villa (“Mr. Batista-Villa” or “the grievant”) was employed by Class from mid-2015 until his termination on September 15, 2017. He was initially hired as a driver but applied for and was given the position of “Day Hab Specialist”, whereby he provided care and transportation for adults with disabilities. On May 5, 2017, the grievant was suspended without pay pending an investigation into two allegations of patient abuse: 1) On May 3, 2017, the Grievant allegedly slapped a blind, non-verbal individual (“Bobby”) with a history of self-injurious behavior (“the Bobby Incident”) and 2) On May 4, 2017, the grievant allegedly left a wheelchair- bound individual alone in a bathroom for an extended period of time (“the Michelle Incident”).

         These incidents were reported to the Disabled Persons Protection Commission (“DPPC”), and Class suspended Batista-Villa without pay. On September 13, 2017 the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (“DDS” or “the Agency”), a Massachusetts Agency which provides a variety of services to people with disabilities, issued a decision letter which substantiated a finding of mistreatment resulting from the Bobby Incident but did not sustain the allegation regarding the Michelle Incident.

         Although the Arbitrator's award refers solely to the DPPC's inquiry, it appears the DDS conducted the investigation. The DPPC and DDS are both state agencies responsible for conducting investigations into allegations of abuse. When an allegation is referred to the DPPC, it either investigates itself or refers the allegation to an appropriate entity. In this case, the DPPC ...

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