Union Pacific has been ordered to reinstate an engineer who defecated on the exterior of a train car.
In a ruling issued Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Buescher upheld an arbitration board's decision that Matthew Lebsack should get his job back.
According to court documents, Lebsack admitted that, during a November 2016 train stop, he defecated on a knuckle connecting a locomotive and box car, threw feces-covered tissue out the window of the locomotive and then later informed his manager that he left a "present." In addition, he also twice extended his middle finger to a security camera on the train.
After a January 2017 disciplinary hearing, at which Lebsack apologized and blamed his behavior on physical and mental health issues, the railroad terminated him, arguing that he violated a rule prohibiting conduct that is "negligent, insubordinate, dishonest, immoral, quarrelsome or discourteous."
The union representing the engineer, the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers-Transportation Division, appealed the termination. Union Pacific subsequently denied the appeal, and the matter was sent to an arbitration panel.
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In December, the arbitrator issued a final ruling that said the termination was "excessive discipline," and that the railroad should have required the engineer to undergo a medical and psychological evaluation and then discipline him if he was found fit for duty.
Union Pacific then filed a lawsuit defending its right to fire the engineer.
In his ruling, Buescher made it clear that he actually disagrees with the arbitration decision reinstating Lebsack.
"(T)his Court is puzzled how the arbitration board in this matter came to the conclusion that Mr. Lebsack’s actions of purposely defecating on the knuckle of his train and leaving his feces for others to clean up somehow did not constitute conduct worthy of upholding his termination," he wrote.
However, the judge wrote, the law does not allow him to consider the merits of the arbitration board's decision, but only whether that decision fell within its discretion under the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement between the railroad and the union. Union Pacific presented no evidence showing the arbitrator's decision was not within its discretion, he wrote.
Union Pacific has not determined yet whether it will appeal the decision.
"Union Pacific is reviewing the court’s decision and in the process of determining our next steps," the company said in a statement. "The behavior in question does not align with our values and should not be tolerated."
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