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The decision of the Authority follows:
45 FLRA No. 20
Before Chairman McKee and Members Talkin and Armendariz.
I. Statement of the Case
This matter is before the Authority on exceptions to an award of Arbitrator Charles Feigenbaum filed by the Union under section 7122(a) of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (the Statute) and part 2425 of the Authority's Rules and Regulations. The Agency filed an opposition to the Union's exceptions.
The Arbitrator denied the grievance of an employee who claimed that she was not promoted for non-work related reasons. The Union's exceptions do not demonstrate that the award is deficient. Accordingly, we will deny the Union's exceptions.
II. Background and Arbitrator's Award
The grievant is a GS-11 staff attorney responsible for preparing legal memoranda relating to appeals from administrative law judge decisions on applications for disability benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act and other statutes administered by the Office of Workers
Compensation Programs. Although the grievant began employment as a GS-11 law clerk, her position was converted to a staff attorney position in December 1988. She is in a career program that includes a 4-month training period and offers employees possible promotion to GS-12 after 1 year at grade GS-11, if the employee demonstrates the ability to perform at the higher grade level. Employees may be promoted from GS-12 to GS-13 after another year if they demonstrate the capability to perform at the grade GS-13 level.
The grievant completed 1 year of service at the GS-11 level in September 1989, at which time her annual performance appraisal was due. Because of some problems that arose from work that the grievant had performed for her second-line supervisor, who was the division chief, the grievant agreed with her first-line supervisor to defer the appraisal until December 1989. In December 1989, the grievant was appraised and given a rating of acceptable. However, she was also informed that she would not be promoted to GS-12 at that time. The grievant filed a grievance protesting the Agency's refusal to promote her to GS-12. The grievance was not resolved and was submitted to arbitration on the following issues:
1. Is the present dispute arbitrable?
2. If so, was the [g]rievant improperly refused promotion to Attorney Advisor, GS-12, in December 1989?
Award at 2.
The Arbitrator ruled that the matter was arbitrable under the parties' collective bargaining agreement and addressed the merits of the grievance. Before the Arbitrator, the Union claimed that "[t]he [g]rievant was denied promotion based on matters which do not pertain to her work performance, that is, racial considerations, personality conflicts, the breakdown of friendship between the [g]rievant and [her first-line supervisor], and retaliation for having sought Union representation." Id. at 26. The Union also argued that the Agency improperly considered work performed during the grievant's training period and that the Agency relied too heavily on a case that did not reflect the typical work performed by the grievant. Further, the Union claimed that a memorandum written by the first-line supervisor discussing the grievant's work was not prepared until shortly before the arbitration hearing held in June 1990, rather than on December 19, 1989, as asserted by the supervisor. The Agency denied the Union's contentions and asserted that the Union failed to show that the grievant was not promoted because of personal, nonwork-related considerations.
The Arbitrator examined the testimony of the grievant, the first-line supervisor, the division chief, and various coworkers of the grievant. Based in part on his credibility determinations, the Arbitrator found that the testimony of witnesses at the hearing failed to support the grievant's claim that she was not promoted to GS-12 because of racial considerations. Rather, the Arbitrator concluded that the grievant's claims and related testimony that she was held to a higher standard by the first-line supervisor and that the second-line supervisor had made racist remarks constituted "mere assertions and cannot serve as a basis for a finding of non-promotion based on racial grounds." Id. at 31. The Arbitrator also found no support in the record for the grievant's claim that she was not promoted because of a personality conflict and a breakdown in a personal relationship between the grievant and the first-line supervisor. The Arbitrator concluded that the deterioration in the relationship between the grievant and the first-line supervisor was not one of the reasons for the failure to promote the grievant. Rather, he concluded that "the promotion was denied for work-related reasons[.]" Id. Further, the Arbitrator found nothing in the record to support the grievant's claim of retaliation for seeking assistance from the Union.
The Arbitrator rejected the grievant's claim that in an interim performance appraisal meeting in April 1989 she was told that she was performing satisfactorily and that a memorandum prepared by the first-line supervisor indicating that there were deficiencies in the grievant's performance was not prepared until after that meeting. Regarding the credibility of the first-line supervisor, the Arbitrator found that the supervisor had improperly discussed the grievant's performance with other employees, despite her denial that she had done so. Accordingly, the Arbitrator stated that he would credit the supervisor's testimony only "when it is corroborated by other testimony or documentary evidence, or when it otherwise presents the best explanation for the facts under consideration." Id. at 35.
The Arbitrator found that the first-line supervisor wanted the grievant to succeed, but he also found that the supervisor was not satisfied with the grievant's work and, for that reason, there was agreement to postpone the grievant's performance appraisal until December 1989. Further, the Arbitrator found that the decision to extend the appraisal period "had nothing to do with a promotion." Id. at 37. Rather, the Arbitrator found that the decision related to the grievant's performance appraisal and "whether or not the [g]rievant is to be retained in her position." Id. (emphasis deleted).
The Union asserted to the Arbitrator that there were "improprieties in connection with the cases and documentation" used by the Agency to show that the grievant was not entitled to a promotion. Id. The Union claimed that the Agency should not have considered cases that the grievant worked on during her training period. However, the Arbitrator found that "there is nothing in the record to indicate that training cases may not be given consideration when making promotion decisions." Id. at 38. The Arbitrator also rejected the Union's assertion that the grievant's work in the case reviewed by the division chief received undue weight in the decision not to promote the grievant.
The Union contended that a memorandum dated December 19, 1989, from the first-line supervisor to the second-line supervisor, giving the reasons for not promoting the grievant, was not written on December 19, 1989, but was written shortly before the arbitration hearing. The Arbitrator found that, although the memorandum was not given to the grievant or her Union representative, there was no evidence to sustain the Union's contention that the memorandum was not written on December 19, 1989. The Arbitrator also noted that he had granted the Union a continuance of 21 days because it had not seen the memorandum prior to the hearing.
The Arbitrator rejected the Union's contention that it was hindered in presenting its case because the Agency refused to make available records in certain cases that had been assigned to the grievant. The Arbitrator held that the case records presented no surprise to the Union or the grievant because the grievant had worked on those cases and should have been aware of the comments by the supervisor regarding the grievant's performance. The Arbitrator stated that the Agency was not required to show that the grievant failed to demonstrate performance at the GS-12 level, but, rather, in the absence of any finding of impropriety on the part of the Agency, the Union was required "to affirmatively show that the [g]rievant demonstrated the ability to do higher level work." Id. at 41. The Arbitrator concluded that the Union had failed to meet that burden. Finally, the Arbitrator rejected the Union's contention that the presence of the Agency's Director of Administration at the hearing served "to help shape the testimony of management witness and to chill the testimony of Union witnesses employed at [the Agency]." Id. The Arbitrator denied the grievance.
III. Positions of the Parties
A. The Union
The Union contends that "the [A]rbitrator made findings not supported by the record evidence and made conclusions which are contrary to [G]overnment personnel regulations." Exceptions at 1. The Union asserts that the Arbitrator erred by accepting into evidence the memorandum dated December 19, 1989, in which the grievant's first-line supervisor explained to the second-line supervisor reasons for not promoting the grievant to GS-12, based on 44 cases that the grievant had completed during the appraisal period. The Union maintains that the Arbitrator accepted the document over its objection and that the Agency failed to produce the pleadings in the cases discussed in the memorandum. Consequently, the Union asserts, "the Union, as well as the [A]rbitrator, were left to rely on management's self-serving attestation that errors in the grievant's analysis of the pleadings were found by her supervisors." Id. at 5.
The Union also contends that the Arbitrator erred by holding that the grievant's supervisors could rely on cases that the grievant completed during her 4-month training period. The Union states that Section B2-3(C)(2)(c), Department of Labor Supplement appendix B, Federal Personnel Manual (FPM) 430, "is quite clear on the point that the performance rating of record may not take into consideration areas of work not covered by the performance plan." Id. at 6-7.
Finally, the Union contends that the Arbitrator made contradictory findings of fact regarding the effect of the supervisors' consideration of two specific cases on the promotion decision. The Union maintains that, although the Arbitrator found that the first-line supervisor's attitude toward the grievant changed after the grievant worked on one of the cases, the Arbitrator later ruled that the grievant's work on the cases did not affect the decision not to promote her. The Union argues that, if the first-line supervisor's opinion of the grievant changed after the grievant's work on the two cases, "then these cases played a major role in the determination of promotion." Id. at 7. The Union also maintains that the Agency failed to give the grievant a "cumulative" performance rating as required by the Department of Labor Supplement to the FPM. Id. at 8.
B. The Agency
The Agency regards the Union's exception concerning the Arbitrator's acceptance of the December 19, 1989, memorandum as an allegation that the Union was denied a fair hearing. The Agency contends that the Union has failed to establish that it was denied a fair hearing and maintains that the Union is merely disagreeing with the Arbitrator's findings and conclusions. The Agency notes that the Arbitrator allowed a 3-week continuance in the arbitration proceeding to offset any surprise to the Union caused by introduction of the memorandum and denies that the Union was harmed in presenting its case by the introduction of the memorandum.
The Agency also denies that the Union was prejudiced when the Agency failed to produce the records of the cases discussed in the December 19, 1989, memorandum. The Agency explains that the case records had been returned to various regional offices and that substantial effort and time would have been required to retrieve the documents. The Agency asserts that regardless of any surprise caused by introduction of the memorandum, the Union was "on notice that the grievant was denied her promotion on the basis of her inadequate job performance." Opposition at 14. The Agency further argues that the case records had no bearing on the award because the Arbitrator rejected the claim that the grievant was denied promotion on the basis of personal considerations and the Union failed to demonstrate that the grievant was capable of performing at a higher grade level.
The Agency asserts that the award is not deficient with respect to the Arbitrator's holding that the grievant's supervisors could consider cases that the grievant worked on during the 4-month training period. The Agency argues that the matter at arbitration concerned the promotion decision, not the grievant's performance appraisal, and, therefore, the Department of Labor Supplement and the FPM provisions cited by the Union do not apply.
The Agency also asserts that the Union's claim that the Arbitrator made contradictory findings of fact concerning the influence of two specific cases constitutes mere disagreement with the Arbitrator's reasoning and fails to show how the award is deficient.
IV. Analysis and Conclusions
A. Fair Hearing
We construe the Union's contention that the Arbitrator erred by accepting into evidence the memorandum dated December 19, 1989, as an assertion that the Arbitrator failed to conduct a fair hearing.
The Authority will find an award deficient when it is established that an arbitrator failed to conduct a fair hearing by, for example, refusing to consider pertinent and material evidence. See U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Mapping Agency, Hydrographic/Topographic Center and American Federation of Government Employees, Local 3407, 44 FLRA 103, 108-09 (1992). However, an arbitrator has considerable latitude in the conduct of a hearing, and the fact that an arbitrator conducted a hearing in a manner that a party finds objectionable does not, in and of itself, provide a basis for finding an award deficient. Id. Further, Federal courts have held that arbitrators are required only to grant parties a fundamentally fair hearing which provides adequate notice, a hearing on the evidence, and an impartial decision by the arbitrator. Id. at 109. The liberal admission by arbitrators of testimony and evidence is a permissible practice. Id.
We conclude that the Union has not demonstrated that the Arbitrator denied it a fair hearing by admitting the December 19, 1989, memorandum into evidence. In particular, the Union has not shown that the Arbitrator acted improperly so as to deny the Union a fundamentally fair hearing. See U.S. Department of the Air Force, Griffiss Air Force Base, New York and American Federation of Government Employees, Local 2612, 39 FLRA 471, 474 (1991). Rather, the Union's assertion constitutes mere disagreement with the Arbitrator's decision to admit the memorandum as evidence supporting the Agency's decision to not promote the grievant. The Union is also disagreeing with the Arbitrator's conclusion that the memorandum was written on the date claimed by the Agency. Such disagreement does not provide a basis for finding the award deficient. See, for example, Federal Employees Metal Trades Council and U.S. Department of the Navy, Long Beach Naval Shipyard, Long Beach, California, 40 FLRA 1012, 1015 (1991). Accordingly, we conclude that this exception provides no basis for finding the award deficient.
B. Remaining Exceptions
The Union asserts that the Arbitrator erred when he ruled that cases worked on by the grievant during her training period could be considered by the Agency when it decided not to promote the grievant. The Union contends that the Department of Labor Supplement to the FPM does not permit the Agency to consider work performed by the grievant during her training period when conducting a performance appraisal. In this regard, the Union notes that the grievant's performance appraisal was accepted into evidence at the arbitration hearing.
We construe this exception as an assertion that the award is contrary to an Agency regulation, specifically Section B2-3(C)(2)(c), Department of Labor Supplement appendix B, FPM 430. Absent circumstances not relevant in this case, an arbitration award that conflicts with a governing agency rule or regulation will be found deficient under section 7122(a)(1) of the Statute. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Medical Center, Atlanta, Georgia and National Federation of Federal Employees, Local 2102, 44 FLRA 427, 432 (1992). However, the Union has not shown that the Arbitrator's ruling in this regard is contrary to Section B2-3(C)(2)(c), Department of Labor Supplement appendix B, FPM 430.
The provision cited by the Union "concerns the [Agency's] performance appraisal plan . . . ." Opposition at 17. The provision does not concern promotion decisions. The Arbitrator did not rule that the Agency could consider training period cases in conducting the grievant's performance appraisal. Rather, the Arbitrator stated that there was nothing in the record that prevented the Agency from considering training period cases "when making promotion decisions." Award at 38. Accordingly, we conclude that the Union has not demonstrated that the Arbitrator's ruling is contrary to Agency regulation.
The Union also contends that the Arbitrator made erroneous and contradictory findings with regard to the change in the first-line supervisor's attitude toward the grievant after the grievant had worked on two specific cases and the Agency's decision not to promote the grievant. The Union maintains that the grievant's supervisor violated applicable performance appraisal regulations by giving undue weight to those cases and did not base the grievant's appraisal on her performance during the entire appraisal period.
The Arbitrator found that the grievant's performance in the disputed cases was not a factor in the decision not to promote the grievant. Further, the Arbitrator found, in responding to the issue before him, that the promotion decision was not based on improper personal considerations, as alleged by the Union. We find that the Union's exception constitutes mere disagreement with the Arbitrator's findings and conclusions in that regard and, as such, provides no basis for finding the award deficient. See International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Lodge 39 and U.S. Department of the Navy, Naval Aviation Depot, Norfolk, Virginia, 44 FLRA 1291, 1300 (1992).
The Union's exceptions are denied.
(If blank, the decision does not have footnotes.)