It's no surprise that the Second Circuit has upheld an arbitration decision suspending New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his role in the infamous Deflategate scandal. The court decision was a classic explanation of the principle that courts owe extraordinary deference to the decisions of arbitrators. The basic idea is that an employer and the union bargain for a method for resolving disputes – and that bargain must be upheld even though a court might have reached a very different decision. National Football League Management Council v. National Football League Players Association (2nd Circuit 04/25/2016). Unions and employers bargain to have their disputes resolved by arbitrators because they don't want courts making these decisions. (Who would?) If they don't like what they're getting, then they need to bargain for different arbitrators or for a different system. Sounds harsh, but that's where it's at.
Here is how the court explained it:
Our role is not to determine for ourselves whether Brady participated in a scheme to deflate footballs or whether the suspension imposed by the Commissioner should have been for three games or five games or none at all. Nor is it our role to second‐guess the arbitrator’s procedural rulings. Our obligation is limited to determining whether the arbitration proceedings and award met the minimum legal standards established by the Labor Management Relations Act, 8 29 U.S.C. § 141 et seq. (the “LMRA”). We must simply ensure that the arbitrator was “even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority” and did not “ignore the plain language of the contract.” [Citation.] These standards do not require perfection in arbitration awards. Rather, they dictate that even if an arbitrator makes mistakes of fact or law, we may not disturb an award so long as he acted within the bounds of his bargained‐for authority.
We hold that the Commissioner properly exercised his broad discretion under the collective bargaining agreement and that his procedural rulings were properly grounded in that agreement and did not deprive Brady of fundamental fairness. Accordingly, we REVERSE the judgment of the district court and REMAND with 24 instructions to confirm the award.
The only real surprise in this court decision is that there was a dissent. Here's the essence:
Judicial review of an arbitration award can be boiled down to a two‐step process. Both inquiries follow from the fundamental premise that “arbitration is 28 a matter of contract.” In the first step, the reviewing court asks whether the arbitrator acted within the scope of his authority under the relevant collective bargaining agreement. This ensures that a party is not forced “to submit to arbitration any dispute which he has not agreed so to submit.” If the arbitrator 6 acted within the scope of his authority, then his decision is entitled to substantial deference. The award will be upheld so long as the reviewing court finds, at the second step, that the arbitral award “draws its essence from the agreement” and does not reflect “merely an example of the arbitrator’s own brand of justice.” This guarantees that the parties get what they bargained for, namely, the arbitrator’s construction of the CBA. In my opinion, the Commissioner’s decision fails as to both steps. [Citations omitted.]