By Ashley Escoe

In Fraternal Order of Police v. WMATA, a published civil opinion released on March 10, 2015, the Fourth Circuit reversed a district court’s order of summary judgment for the appellee, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), holding that the appellant, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), complied with the arbitration award.

Officers Allege That Termination Violates Arbitration Award

This labor dispute arose when the WMATA fired two of its police officers for a second time, after an arbitration award required WMATA to rehire them. WMATA fired Mark Spencer and Sherman Benton initially for making untruthful statements during investigations into their alleged improper conduct. The FOP, the bargaining agent for officers, filed grievances for the two officers culminating in arbitration. The Board of Arbitration determined that a lengthy suspension was more appropriate than termination and ordered WMATA to rehire the officers.

When the two officers were fired, they lost their Maryland certification to work as police officers. Once reinstated, they had to apply for recertification with the Maryland Commission before resuming their police duties. The Maryland Commission denied the officers recertification. Because the two officers were not recertified, WMATA fired them a second time. The FOP filed this action in federal court, contending that WMATA violated the decision of the Arbitration Board. The district court held that WMATA failed to comply with the arbitration order and instructed WMATA to rehire Benton and Spencer.

Fourth Circuit Follows Seventh and Third Circuits

The decision in this case turns on whether firing the two officers the second time, when they were denied recertification, constitutes a violation of the arbitration order. There is no Fourth Circuit authority that addresses this issue directly. Therefore, the Court looked to the Seventh and Third Circuits, which had decided cases with similar facts. The Seventh Circuit in Chrysler Motors Corp. v. International Union, Allied Industrial Workers and the Third Circuit in United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 1776 v. Excel Corp. held that an employee cannot challenge a second termination by seeking to enforce an arbitration award where an employee was terminated, ordered to be reinstated after arbitration, then fired again for independent reasons.

Second Termination was Based on Independent Grounds

The Fourth Circuit Found that that WMATA fired the officers the second time on independent grounds not related to the first termination. The reasons for the second termination, that the Maryland Commission denied recertification, was distinct from firing the officers for disciplinary infractions and was also never before the Arbitration Board.

The Court noted that WMATA provided the Maryland Commission with derogatory information seeking to discourage the officers’ recertification. While the Court does not condone that behavior, it concluded that it did not have jurisdiction to consider if WMATA’s actions violated the “just cause” provision of the collective bargaining agreement between the officers and WMATA. That issue, according to the agreement, must be settled by arbitration.

Summary Judgment Reversed

The Fourth Circuit held that the WMATA’s choice to fire the two officers after their recertification was denied, did not violate the arbitration award, reversing the district court’s order of summary judgment for the FOP.