Eastern Associated Coal Corporation v. United Mine Workers of America, District 17 - Oral Argument - October 02, 2000

Eastern Associated Coal Corporation v. United Mine Workers of America, District 17

Media for Eastern Associated Coal Corporation v. United Mine Workers of America, District 17

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - November 28, 2000 in Eastern Associated Coal Corporation v. United Mine Workers of America, District 17

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 02, 2000 in Eastern Associated Coal Corporation v. United Mine Workers of America, District 17

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 99-1038, The Eastern Associated Coal Corporation v. United Mine Workers of America.

Mr. Roberts.

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court--

Twice the driver in this case tested positive for illegal drugs, and twice the company that employed him to drive its 25-ton vehicles in West Virginia tried to fire him.

Each time an arbitrator ordered the driver reinstated.

The second time the company went to court, arguing that the reinstatement award should not be enforced because it was contrary to public policy to put this driver back behind the wheel.

The district court and the court of appeals, however, rejected that argument and concluded that because reinstatement was not illegal, the public policy exception to the enforceability of contracts, quote, does not apply, unquote.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Roberts, did the company have any provision in the collective bargaining agreement about what it was going to do for positive drug testing?

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Yes.

The agreement said that in the case of a positive drug test the driver was subject to sanctions up to and including termination, and the arbitrator concluded that in this case they hadn't established just cause.

That, of course, is the predicate for the application of the public policy exception in every case, the fact that the contract provides a result that is different from the one the parties are arguing for under public policy.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

How do you read Department of Transportation regulations on this?

They're quite extensive, and as I read them it doesn't expressly cover what happens for a second violation.

There was a proposal to do something that I guess they didn't adopt.

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Yes, there was a proposal, and it was just not adopted.

Yeah.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

So is it within the provisions of the regulations actually adopted that an employee could be restored to driving a truck under these circumstances?

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

We don't know if it was because it was regarded as too strict or not strict enough.

Certainly after one positive test.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

After a--

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

The question of a--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--It just doesn't say.

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

--No.

The question of a recidivist is not addressed by the regulations at all.

Mm hmm.

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

What the regulations provide... and we agree with the Solicitor General's reading of the regulations.

We don't take issue with it... is that in a case of a positive drug test a couple of things have to happen.

The driver, before he can go back to work, has to pass the minimum requirements, which is just evaluation by a substance abuse professional and pass a return to work test, and then whether or not the driver gets his job back is left to private ordering.

Now, if that private ordering takes the form of a contract, a collective bargaining agreement, that contract should be subject to the public policy exception just like every other contract is.

There is not--