EASTERN ASSOCIATED COAL CORP. v. MINE WORKERS

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
99-1038
Petitioner 
Eastern Associated Coal Corp.
Respondent 
Mine Workers
Opinion 
Advocates
(Argued the cause for the petitioner)
(Argued the cause for the respondents)
(Department of Justice, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the respondents)
Term:
Facts of the Case 

Eastern Associated Coal Corp. and the United Mine Workers of America are parties to a collective-bargaining agreement with arbitration provisions. Under the agreement, in order for Eastern to discharge an employee, it must prove it has "just cause," or the arbitrator will order the employee reinstated. The arbitrator's decision is final. With this framework in place, James Smith worked for Eastern as a truck driver subject to Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations requiring random drug testing of workers engaged in "safety-sensitive" tasks. After Smith tested positive for marijuana use twice, Eastern sought to discharge him. Each time the union went to arbitration. The arbitrator concluded that Smith's positive drug test did not amount to "just cause" for discharge and reinstated him conditionally. After the second occurrence, Eastern filed suit to vacate the arbitrator's award. The District Court ordered the award's enforcement, holding that Smith's conditional reinstatement did not violate the strong regulation-based public policy against drug use by workers who perform safety-sensitive functions. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Question 

Do public policy considerations require federal courts to refuse to enforce arbitrator's awards, which reinstate employees fired for testing positive for marijuana?

Conclusion 
Decision: 9 votes for Mine Workers, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: 105 Stat. 952

No. In a opinion delivered by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, the Court held that under Eastern and the United Mine Workers of America collective bargaining agreement, the arbitration award, which required Smith's reinstatement, was not contrary to explicit, well defined, dominant public policy. The public- policy exception to enforcing an arbitrator's award is narrow; thus, the public policy must be "explicit, well-defined, and dominant," explained Justice Breyer, and must be ascertained "by reference to positive law and not from general considerations of supposed public interests." Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, concurred in the judgment.

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EASTERN ASSOCIATED COAL CORP. v. MINE WORKERS. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 10 November 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2000/2000_99_1038>.
EASTERN ASSOCIATED COAL CORP. v. MINE WORKERS, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2000/2000_99_1038 (last visited November 10, 2014).
"EASTERN ASSOCIATED COAL CORP. v. MINE WORKERS," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed November 10, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2000/2000_99_1038.