United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit
Labor — Railway Labor Act
A district court exceeded its authority in dismissing a petition for review and vacating an offset to a back pay order.
“So the district court exceeded its authority in dismissing the petition to review the Board’s award, and we must order the court to vacate its dismissal along with its order remanding the case to the Board. We add, for guidance should there be further judicial proceedings, that the scope of judicial review of the Board’s awards is, as with judicial review of other arbitral awards, exceedingly narrow—indeed it’s been said to be ‘among the narrowest known to the law.’ Union Pacific R.R. v. Sheehan, 439 U.S. 89, 91 (1978) (per curiam); American Train Dispatchers Association v. Norfolk & Western Ry., 937 F.2d 365, 366 (7th Cir. 1991). ‘As we have said too many times to want to repeat again, the question for decision by a federal court asked to set aside an arbitration award—whether the award is made under the Railway Labor Act, the Taft-Hartley Act, or the United States Arbitration Act—is not whether the arbitrator or arbitrators erred in interpreting the contract; it is not whether they clearly erred in interpreting the contract; it is not whether they grossly erred in interpreting the contract; it is whether they interpreted the contract.’ Hill v. Norfolk & Western Ry., 814 F.2d 1192, 1194-95 (7th Cir. 1987). That makes it doubtful that there is any basis for striking down an earnings-offset provision. Such a provision appears to be just an application of the traditional doctrine of mitigation of damages, an application—again one found in NLRB cases as well—to cases in which workers wrongfully fired are awarded back pay. See Phelps Dodge Corp. v. NLRB, 313 U.S. 177, 197-200 (1941); cf. NLRB v. Midwestern Personnel Services, Inc., 508 F.3d 418, 423 (7th Cir. 2007). But determining the validity of such a provision is a task for the district court in the first instance, should the question of validity arise in future litigation arising out of this or some other award. For us to decide the question at this juncture would exceed our authority to issue a writ of mandamus, an authority limited in this case to ordering rescission of the district court’s order that vacated the earnings-offset provision and remanded the case to the Adjustment Board.”
Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, Reagan, J., Posner, J.