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AFSCME Council 81 Registered Nurses Unit Local 2305 v. State

Court of Chancery of Delaware

April 30, 2014

AFSCME, Council 81, Registered Nurses Unit, Local 2305,
v.
State of Delaware, Department of Health and Social Services

Submitted: January 9, 2014

Dear Counsel:

Petitioner Madhu Jain ("Jain") worked as a charge nurse in the Kent 3 Unit at the Delaware Psychiatric Center, a facility of Respondent State of Delaware's Department of Health and Social Services ("DHSS"). On the morning of April 4, 2009, Patient W left her room and collapsed on the hallway floor. Jain walked down the hallway and came across Patient W lying face down, not moving, and soaked in urine. Jain, from a few feet away without any physical contact, observed Patient W for perhaps a minute and then moved toward the nurse's station to get help to change Patient W's clothes. A few minutes later, a nursing assistant checked on Patient W and called another nurse who, when Patient W would not respond, began CPR.[1] Patient W would die later that day of a pulmonary embolism, an occurrence that was not preventable.

DHSS investigated the incident and eventually concluded that Jain should be dismissed for patient neglect, failure to perform a thorough assessment of Patient W's condition as required by the applicable standard of care, and unprofessional and unacceptable behavior.

Jain's employment was governed by a collective bargaining agreement (the "CBA") between Petitioner American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 81, Registered Nurses Unit, Local 2305 ("AFSCME") and DHSS.[2] Under the CBA, the parties first grieved Jain's termination; that effort was unsuccessful. The CBA prescribes arbitration as the next step. After a two-day arbitration hearing, the arbitrator concluded that there was just cause for Jain's dismissal.[3] Jain then brought this action to challenge the arbitrator's decision.[4]

Jain claims that the arbitrator's decision must be vacated (or modified, or remanded) for several reasons:

1. The Award incorrectly assumed that Jain carried the burden to prove that the State did not have just cause for the recommended disciplinary action;
2. The Award applied an incorrect standard of care as to the definition of "neglect"; and
3. The Award completely ignored Jain's due back [sic] and benefits as were her contractual rights under the Collective Bargaining Agreement.[5]

DHSS has moved for summary judgment.[6] Summary judgment, which may be granted under Court of Chancery Rule 56 if there are no material facts in dispute and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, is a useful procedural devise for the judicial review of an arbitrator's decision.[7]

The public policy supporting arbitration as a means of resolving labor disputes not only is well-established, but also explains why judicial review in this context is limited:

Courts rarely set aside an arbitrator's interpretation and application of a collective bargaining agreement because that is what the employer and the union have "bargained for." Moreover, the arbitration of labor disputes has long been held to be an efficient means of resolving these disputes and is strongly supported by public policy.[8]

As set forth in Meades:

This Court will not disturb a labor arbitration award unless (a) the integrity of the arbitration has been compromised by, for example, fraud, procedural irregularity, or a specific command of law; (b) the award does not claim its essence from the ...

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