Buffkin v. Department of Defense, No. 19-1531 (Fed. Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Buffkin, a former teacher in the Department of Defense (DoD) school for the children of military personnel, challenged her termination. The collective bargaining agreement process for contesting adverse employment actions provides that any grievance will be mediated if requested by either party. A written request for arbitration must be served on the opposing party within 20 days following "the conclusion of the last stage in the grievance procedure.” “The date of the last day of mediation will be considered the conclusion of the last stage in the grievance procedure" for purposes of proceeding to arbitration.
DoD denied Buffkin’s grievance. The union and DoD met with a mediator in December 2012. No agreement was reached. In July 2014, the union submitted a written request for arbitration. DoD signed the request and the parties received a list of arbitrators in August 2014. In March 2015, DoD listed Buffkin’s grievance as an open grievance and the parties held another mediation session. The union and DoD selected an arbitrator in January 2017. DoD then argued that the arbitration request was untimely. The arbitrator found that the union did not invoke arbitration within 20 days after the 2012 mediation concluded.
The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded with instructions to address whether the union’s premature request for arbitration ripened into a timely request. Buffkin’s grievance was not resolved in the 2012 mediation; there was another mediation session in 2015, the last stage of the grievance procedure. Invoking arbitration in 2014 was premature, rather than too late. DoDs conduct and past practices indicate that it did not consider the arbitration request untimely.