In Union Pacific RR Co. v. American Railway & Airway Supervisors Assoc., No. 18-50110 (5th Cir. 12/16/2020), the Fifth Circuit reversed a grant of summary judgment in favor of the employer. A railroad employee, Roland Beltran, twice tested positive on a drug test. Aided by the union, he appealed to arbitration. He presented evidence that prescription drugs likely caused the false positive. The arbitration delivered a decision overturning Mr. Beltran’s termination. Union Pacific Railroad Company then sued seeking to overturn the arbitration result.

The case turned on the meaning of 49 C.F.R. Sec. 40.149, which provides that only the medical testing review board can overturn a drug test result.  The district court held that an arbitration panel does not have the authority to reverse the drug test result. The district court faulted the employee for not providing information about his prescription drugs when asked by the medical review board.

But, the Fifth Circuit saw the role of the medical review board as more  narrow. Its sole function was to verify the drug test’s validity for purposes of personnel procedures, not to implement federal safety regulations. At bottom, said the court, transportation safety policy and labor policy are driven by different concerns. That means the arbitration panel decision did not conflict with the medical review board result. Therefore, no public policy has been violated.

Too, noted the court, the employer did not challenge the jurisdiction of the arbitration board when that mater was still pending. That means the employer waived its jurisdictional argument in front of the arbitration panel. Union Pacific did not raise the issue concerning 49 C.F.R. Sec. 40.149 before the arbitration panel. See the Fifth Circuit decision here.