American Federation of Government Employees, Local 933 (Union) and United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Great Lakes National Cemetery, Holly, Michigan (Agency)
64 FLRA No. 122
FEDERAL LABOR RELATIONS AUTHORITY
AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
GREAT LAKES NATIONAL CEMETERY
April 21, 2010
Before the Authority: Carol Waller Pope, Chairman, and
Thomas M. Beck and Ernest DuBester, Members
I. Statement of the Case
This matter is before the Authority on exception to an award of Arbitrator
Elliot I. Beitner filed by the Union under § 7122 (a) of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (the Statute) and part 2425 of the Authority’s Regulations. The Agency filed an opposition to the Union’s exception.
The Arbitrator ordered that the grievant’s removal be converted to a written reprimand and that the grievant be reinstated with “back seniority” and back pay. He also denied the request for attorney fees. For the reasons that follow, we dismiss the Union’s exception for lack of jurisdiction under § 7122(a) of the Statute.
II. Background and Arbitrator’s Award
The Agency notified the grievant of his proposed removal from service for “negligent workmanship resulting in the burial of a veteran in the wrong gravesite.” Award at 2. The Union filed a grievance contesting the grievant’s removal. Id. The matter was unresolved and submitted to arbitration. Among other things, the parties submitted to arbitration the following issue: “Was the grievant terminated for just cause?”
Id. at 4.
The Arbitrator determined that the Agency did not have just cause to terminate the grievant, but did have just cause to impose a lesser discipline. Id. at 12. Accordingly, he ordered that the grievant’s removal be set aside and replaced by a written reprimand. He also ordered that the grievant be reinstated to his prior position at the same step level, with “back seniority” and back pay, and denied the Union’s request for attorney fees. Id.
III. Positions of the Parties
A. Union’s Exception
The Union contests the Arbitrator’s ruling regarding attorney fees. Exceptions at 8. The Union asserts that the grievant has met the prerequisites to be awarded such fees. Id. at 9. The Union also contends that a fully articulated and reasoned decision is required regarding this issue, not a one-sentence denial as provided by the Arbitrator. Id. at 10. Accordingly, the Union requests that the Authority decide the appropriateness of the grievant’s requested attorney fees and award such fees, or remand the matter to the Arbitrator for a reasoned and articulated decision. Id. at 11.
B. Agency’s Opposition
The Agency argues that a requirement for the award of attorney fees is that the grievant be affected by an unjustified personnel action. Opposition at 7. The Agency contends that it did not engage in such an action. Id. at 9. The Agency further asserts that attorney fees should not be awarded because the “[g]rievant is not substantially innocent, the Agency’s actions were not clearly without merit or wholly unfounded, and the Agency did not know, and should not have known, that it would not prevail.” Id. at 9. Accordingly, the Agency requests that the exceptions be denied or, in the alternative, remanded to the Arbitrator for clarification. Id. at 9-10.
IV. Order to Show Cause
The Authority directed the Union to show cause why its exceptions should not be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Order to Show Cause at 2. In response, the Union asserts that the issue of attorney fees is “inextricably intertwined with [the] [g]rievant’s removal[.]” Union Response at 2. The Union argues that the Authority has accepted jurisdiction over matters involving the granting or denial of attorney fees by arbitrators. Id. According to the Union, in United States General Services Administration Northeast & Caribbean Region, New York, New York, 61 FLRA 68 (2005) (U.S. Gen. Serv. Admin.), the Authority ruled on the attorney fee issue even though the primary issue in the case involved the suspension of a grievant for fourteen days. Id. The Union argues that to dismiss its exception at this stage would have “a chilling effect on a grievant’s decision to retain counsel” to protect his or her employment rights. Id. at 3. In addition, the Union