National Railroad Passenger Corporation v. Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 189 Labor Committee, 855 F.3d 335 (D.C. Cir. 2017) [click for opinion]

Plaintiff-appellants, the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 89 ("FOP," or "the union") initiated arbitration proceedings on behalf of Sarah Bryant, an officer of the Amtrak Police Department, after she was fired from the company. According to the union's agreement with Amtrak, certain procedures were established for interrogations of employees, including informing the employee of the right to have a representative present, and to be informed of their Miranda rights if criminal conduct is alleged or suspected.

When Officer Bryant was being investigated by Amtrak, she was interviewed by both the Police Department's Internal Affairs Unit as well as the Amtrak Office of the Inspector General (the "IG"). In its interview with Bryant, the IG neither informed Bryant of a right to counsel, nor the right to have a union representative present. The IG also did not record the interview. Ultimately, the IG concluded that Bryant had lied both in her interview and on a previous affidavit. The Police Department held a disciplinary conference and then fired Bryant after she refused to resign.

Bryant appealed within Amtrak, and then sought arbitration according to the bargaining agreement, arguing that she had been terminated without just cause. The arbitrator held for Bryant, but on the grounds that the IG had not complied with the bargaining agreement's procedures. Amtrak appealed to the district court for the District of Columbia, which vacated the judgment on the grounds that the IG was not governed by the terms of the bargaining agreement.

On appeal, the D.C. Circuit noted there were few grounds on which a reviewing court may set aside an arbitral award. One is that the contractual provision is "contrary to 'law or public policy.'" In this case, the court found persuasive past precedent that Offices of the Inspector General cannot have their mandates changed by collective bargaining agreements, because such bargaining would impinge on the statutory independence of the IG. Because the arbitrator's decision rested on a contractual interpretation that did not conform with public policy and precedent, the D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to vacate the award.

In dissent, Judge Pillard noted that under the Railway Labor Act (the "RLA"), arbitration awards may be set aside only for an arbitrator's failure to comply with procedural requirements, lack of jurisdiction, or fraud or corruption. Judge Pillard further noted that the judicially-fashioned public policy exception was to be construed extremely narrowly, and had never been invoked to vacate a RLA award by the D.C. Circuit or the Supreme Court. Finding that the instant award did not compel conduct contrary to public policy, was case-specific rather than precedential, and was nothing more than a ruling on the admissibility of the IG report as evidence in the proceedings, Judge Pillard would have reversed.