Although described as a means of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), arbitration occasionally is a precursor to litigation. A pair of recent rulings in the federal and state courts reflects this tendency, and highlight some strategies and pitfalls for parties and their lawyers. Both cases upheld the arbitral awards in management-labor cases, one favorable to the union and employee, and the other the employer. In both, the courts expressed the strong preference for judicially upholding decisions of arbitrators in disputes under collective bargaining agreements, which also extends to most other types of consensual arbitration arrangements. SBC Advanced Solutions, Inc. v. Communs. Workers of Am., Dist. 6, 794 F.3d 1020 (8th Cir. 2015) (wage remains upheld for employees performing “out-of-grade” higher functions); Law Enforcement Labor Servs. v. Blaine Police Dep’t of Blaine, 2015 Minn. App. Unpub. LEXIS 787 (Minn. Ct. App. Aug. 10, 2015) (unpublished) (doctrine of “public policy” rejected in confirming arbitration award upholding supervision of police officer).
Parties and their lawyers seeking to avoid having arbitration awards challenged in appeals should emphasize that arbitration is strongly favored in the law, and the immense latitude of arbitrators as “final judges of law and fact.” Those challenging arbitral awards should identify some specific grounds showing a defect of the arbitration proceedings, rather than attacking the fairness, wisdom, or even correctness of the award. They also might wish to consider appealing through the federal court system, if jurisdiction exists, because the federal standards for review of arbitral decisions are generally somewhat broader than those followed in state court cases.
Marshall H. Tanick
Hellmuth & Johnson, PLLC