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CenterPoint Energy Resources Corp. v. Gas Workers Union

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

January 17, 2017

CenterPoint Energy Resources Corp., Plaintiff,
v.
Gas Workers Union, Local 340, Defendant.,

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          PAUL A. MAGNUSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff CenterPoint Energy Resource Corporation's (“CenterPoint”) Motion to Vacate Arbitration Award and Defendant Gas Workers Union, Local No. 340's (“the Union”) Motion to Confirm Arbitration Award. For the following reasons, CenterPoint's Motion is granted and the Union's Motion is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         CenterPoint is a domestic energy delivery company that, among other things, employs service technicians to provide maintenance services for its customers' heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. The Union is a labor organization that represents various employees at CenterPoint, including service technicians.

         On May 1, 2015, CenterPoint and the Union entered into a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) that governed the terms and conditions of employment at CenterPoint. The CBA requires that employment disputes not resolved through an internal grievance policy are subject to arbitration. Article 26 of the CBA further provides that:

The Company has the right to employ or promote in accordance with the provisions of this Agreement, to enforce discipline, to discharge employees for cause, including failure to recognize authority, to discharge or discipline new employees with or without cause before they shall have completed their applicable probationary period (such new employees retain the right to file grievances alleging contractual violations). Without excluding other causes for discharge, the following shall constitute absolute causes from which there shall be no appeal to negotiation or arbitration between the Company and the Union (except that the question of whether the employee has been guilty of the facts constituting such absolute causes shall be a negotiable controversy) namely:
1. Use of, or being under the influence of, alcohol or non-medical drugs at any time during the work day.
2. Dishonesty
3. Neglect of Duty
4. Abuse of Sick Leave

(Collins Decl. Ex. 1 (Docket No. 14-1) at 37-38).

         On September 14, 2015, CenterPoint fired one of its service technicians, Mark Ness. CenterPoint fired Ness after it discovered-through its GPS tracking system-that Ness had been spending time in restaurants, parks, and gas station parking lots while claiming on his electronic timecard that he was working. The Union immediately filed a formal grievance. Because the parties were unable to resolve the matter through CenterPoint's internal grievance policy, they submitted the matter to arbitration.

         The parties participated in an arbitration hearing on April 8, May 3, May 4, and May 20, 2016. The parties also submitted post-hearing briefing to the Arbitrator. On September 15, 2016, the Arbitrator issued an award in which he concluded that CenterPoint had:

failed to prove that Mr. Ness was guilty of dishonesty or neglect of duty for a total of six hours on the days in question. However, the Arbitrator concludes that Mr. Ness is guilty of dishonesty or neglect of duty on some of days [sic] in question, but must find that the discharge penalty imposed on Mr. Ness was arbitrary and discriminatory and must ...

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