The Sixth Circuit’s recent opinion on federal labor arbitration law reiterates the deference given to arbitrators of labor disputes by the Supreme Court and Sixth Circuit precedent.  In Titan Tire Corporation of Bryan v. United Steelworkers of America, Local 890, Case No. 09-4460, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the Northern District of Ohio’s refusal to vacate an arbitration award in favor of a Union member.  After Titan automatically fired an employee that tested positive for drugs in violation of the drug policy, the Union grieved the termination.  Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, the parties submitted the dispute to arbitration.  The arbitrator determined Titan did not have just cause to terminate the employee because the language “subject to termination” in the drug policy did not permit Titan to automatically terminate an employee.  The arbitrator modified the employee’s termination to a ninety-day suspension with reinstatement and backpay.  The district court then denied Titan’s motion to vacate the arbitrator’s award.

Relying on its decision in Michigan Family Resources, Inc. v. Service Employees International Union Local 517M, 475 F.3d 746 (6th Cir. 2007), the Sixth Circuit held that its inquiry in reviewing labor-arbitration awards was limited to whether the arbitrator “arguably constru[ed] or appl[ied] the contract.”  Because the language “subject to termination” in the drug policy was ambiguous, the arbitrator’s interpretation that the language did not permit automatic termination was a reasonable construction made in good faith.  As the Sixth Circuit noted in Michigan Family Resources, the role of the court is to review “outcomes, not opinions,” and the fact that the arbitrator may have chose the “wrong path in justifying the award” does not permit the court to vacate it.