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District 1199NM v. Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

August 2, 2018


          Shane Youtz, Stephen Curtice YOUTZ & VALDEZ, PC Attorneys for Plaintiff

          Charles Birenbaum, Jamie R. Adams GREENBERG TRAURIG LLP Attorneys for Defendants



         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Petition to Confirm Arbitration Award and Request for Injunctive Relief filed by Plaintiff District 1199NM, National Union of Hospital and Healthcare Employees, AFSCME, AFL-CIO (“Union”) [Doc. 1], and the Motion to Vacate Arbitration Award filed by Defendant Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center (“Medical Center”) [Doc. 13]. The Court, having considered the petition, the motion, briefs, relevant law and being otherwise fully informed, finds that the Medical Center's Motion to Vacate Arbitration Award [Doc. 13] is not well-taken and will be DENIED, and that the Union's Petition to Confirm Arbitration Award and Request for Injunctive Relief are well-taken and will be



         The Grievant, Juanita Trujillo, was a long-time Medical Center employee who had been hired in October 1989 and worked as a Monitor Tech II in the Critical Care Unit/Intensive Care Unit (“CCU/ICU”). [Doc. 1-1 at 8]. The job description for Monitor Tech II states:

Assists nursing staff by transcribing physician orders. Continuously observes documents, and reports the cardiac rhythm status in the units and/or on telemetry. Performs clerical duties insuring accuracy of unit records. Serves as communication center for nursing unit. Precepts and orients new M.T.'s and nurses to the telemetry monitors and protocols.


         Prior to May 2014, Patrick Salas, RN, was appointed Director of the CCU/ICU. Id. at 7. He was tasked with raising the level of efficiency, proficiency and patient satisfaction in the CCU/ICU Department. Id. at 7. The work relationship between the Director and the Grievant deteriorated over time. Id. at 8. He believed that her work product and general behavior had become inconsistent over the last six months of 2014, and that she failed to follow medical orders and was casual in complying with directives from the medical and nursing staff. Id. The Grievant had 25 years of experience at performing her job and believed that she was a loyal and productive member of the medical community. Id. She was irritated that he called her “Pepita” (meaning “small dog”). Id. He criticized her for not answering the telephone at the nurse's station within three rings, even if she was not present at the time, and for taking longer than three minutes to use the bathroom, which was longer than any other employee in the unit. Id. The Grievant was also troubled that other women on the staff had reported Mr. Salas to Human Resources. Id.

         In May 2014, the Grievant and Mr. Salas had a loud confrontation over a staffing issue. After she left the hospital at shift's end, Mr. Salas continued the confrontation by calling her twice on her cell phone to express his displeasure and again the following morning on her day off. Id. In August 2014, he gave her a poor annual evaluation and required her to complete a 30- day Individual Success Plan (“ISP”). Id. The Grievant successfully completed the program. Id.

         The Grievant received her first warning in an otherwise unblemished employment record for an October 14, 2014, incident. Id. On that date, a traveling nurse asked the Grievant to go to the hospital blood bank and retrieve blood for a patient on the unit “when she had time.” Id. at 9. The patient had been diagnosed with an infection and, before he could receive antibiotics, it was imperative that he receive a blood transfusion. Id. The Grievant had not been told that the patient had been diagnosed with a serious condition and that time was of the essence in retrieving the blood. Id.

         As the Grievant proceeded down the hallway on her way to the blood bank, a certified nurse assistant (“CNA”) called out to her and requested help with a highly agitated patient who was thrashing around half in and half out of the restraints holding him in the bed. Id. The patient had a critical/mainline as well as one IV tube attached to his body, and there was a danger that the patient might “bleed out” if the critical/mainline ruptured or was yanked from his body. Id. While the CNA and Grievant were struggling to secure the patient back in his bed, the Grievant yelled out for help. Id. A nurse arrived, assessed the situation, and went to get medication to sedate the patient. Id. The nurse eventually returned and administered the medication, and the patient was returned to a secure and safe position in his hospital bed. Id.

         At this point, the charge nurse of the CCU/ICU, Cathy Hand, arrived and asked whether the Grievant had retrieved the blood, was told she had not. Id. Upon hearing this, Ms. Hand moved quickly to retrieve the blood herself. Id. Based on the Grievant's failure to retrieve the blood in a timely manner, Ms. Hand recommended that the Grievant be given a written warning. Mr. Salas agreed with Ms. Hand's recommendation and the Grievant received a written warning on November 25, 2014. Id. The Grievant did not grieve the warning. Id.

         On December 14, 2014, the CCU-ICU was chaotic; the patient census was high and the staff moved from crisis to crisis. Id. at 10. The Medical Director of the CCU/ICU gave Ms. Hand a medical order that a Sitter be placed in the room of a suicidal patient.[2] Id. Ms. Hand instructed the Grievant to go to the patient's room and sit with her. Id. The Grievant was not informed that the patient was suicidal. Id. She told Ms. Hand she was updating patient's charts; Ms. Hand advised her to finish what she was doing and then go to the patient's room. Id. The Grievant testified that she arrived in the patient's room approximately ten minutes after being instructed to do so by Ms. hand. Id. Ms. Handtestified that the Grievant did not arrive at the patient's room until 5:30 p.m.-45 minutes after she had been ordered to be a Sitter. Id. However, the Vice-President of Human Resources testified that the computer records were unreliable and could not be used to verify the time the Grievant entered the suicidal patient's room. Id.

         Nobody on the hospital staff advised the Grievant that the patient was suicidal, nor was this information posted on the wall board at the nurse's station. However, when the Grievant entered the patient's room, the patient told the Grievant that she was suicidal. Id.

         As previously noted, the Medical Center has a written policy/procedure/protocol (the “Sitter Policy”) for what must take place if a physician writes an order for a Sitter to be placed in a suicidal patient's room. Id. at 10-11. The Grievant testified, however, that she was unaware of the Sitter Policy and had never been trained to understand that it was hospital policy that a Sitter should never leave a suicidal patient alone. Id. at 11.

         When the Grievant entered the patient's room, the patient indicated that she was cold and wanted a blanket. Id. The closet containing the blankets was across the hall from the patient's room. Id. The Grievant made sure that the door to the patient's room was securely open, the curtain was completely open, and that the patient's significant other would remain in the room while the Grievant retrieved the blanket. Id. She testified that she was out of the room for between 30 seconds and one minute. Subsequently, the patient requested water, and the Grievant stepped down the hall and retrieved water for her. Id. While the Grievant was out of the room getting the water, the patient's significant other and both parents remained in the room with the patient. Id.

         The remainder of the shift was uneventful. Nothing was said to the Grievant about her job performance that day, and she continued to perform sitting assignments thereafter until she was terminated in mid-January 2015 pursuant to Article 25 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Id.

         The Union filed a grievance on behalf of the Grievant, and the parties submitted the dispute to arbitration under their November 1, 2012-September 30, 2015, Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”). Id. at 2. Hearings on the grievance were conducted on October 6, 2015 and January 12-13, 2016. Id.

         On May 26, 2016, Arbitrator Robert H. Monnaville (“Arbitrator”) issued a decision in favor of the Union and the Grievant and against the Medical Center in FMCS Case No. 15-54679. [Doc. 1-1]. In the decision, the Arbitrator found that the Medical Center did not have just cause to terminate the Grievant. Id. He sustained the Grievance and ordered the Medical Center to reinstate Grievant to her former position with full seniority by June 15, 2016, and make the Grievant whole for lost wages and benefits pursuant to Article 26.19.6 of the CBA in effect at the time of her discharge. Id. at 20.

         The Union filed its Petition to Confirm Arbitration Award and Request for Injunctive Relief on July 5, 2016. [Doc. 1]. The Medical Center thereafter filed its Motion to Vacate on August 1, 2016. [Doc. 13].


         Noting that the CBA provides that the Employer may discharge or suspend an employee for just cause, the Arbitrator stated:

         A common understanding has developed in the field of labor-management relations that just cause requires:

1) Notice to the Grievant of the rules to be followed and the consequences of non-compliance;
2) Proof that the Grievant engaged in the alleged misconduct;
3) Procedural regularity in the investigation of the misconduct; and
4) Reasonable and even handed application of discipline, including progressive discipline where appropriate.

Id. (citing Hill & Sinicropi, Remedies and Arbitration, 2nd Edition (BNA Books; 1991) p. 137-145.[3] The Arbitrator stated that “[t]he central issue in this case is whether the Grievant is guilty of wrong doing and if so, was the conduct serious enough to give the employer sufficient reason to impose summary discharge without engaging in progressive discipline.” Id. He further stated:

The issue of whether or not the employer had just cause to terminate the Grievant can be determined by answering the following three questions:
1) Was the Grievant tardy in complying with the Charge Nurse's order to go to the ...

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