Petitioner, after long employment as an engineer was removed
from service following an adverse physical report by respondent
railroad's physicians. His own doctor thereafter examined
petitioner and pronounced him fit to work. When the railroad
rejected petitioner's request for reexamination or restoration to
service, he filed with the Railroad Adjustment Board a claim for
reinstatement and back pay. The Board appointed a three-doctor
committee, which found petitioner fit to act as an engineer. The
Board, having interpreted seniority and other provisions of the
collective bargaining agreement as guaranteeing petitioner's
continued service while physically qualified, ordered his
reinstatement with back pay for time lost. Upon the railroad's
refusal to comply, petitioner brought this enforcement action in
District Court. That court refused to uphold the Board's order,
finding nothing in the collective bargaining agreement to limit the
railroad's right to remove petitioner upon a medical disability
finding by its physicians. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
1. The Adjustment Board, an experienced representative body
created by § 3 of the Railway Labor Act for settling disputes in
the railroad industry, including interpretation of agreements, did
not abuse its discretion by its interpretation of the collective
bargaining agreement or its appointment of the medical board and
reliance on its findings. Pp. 382 U. S.
2. A federal district court, under § 3 First(m) of the Railway
Labor Act, which provides for finality of Adjustment Board awards
"except insofar as they shall contain a money award," cannot open
up the Board's finding on the merits merely because its
determination on the central issue of wrongful discharge included a
money award. Pp. 382 U. S.
3. The District Court has power under the Act to determine the
separable issue of the size of the money award for lost time; in
making that determination, the court can evaluate any changes
Page 382 U. S. 258
petitioner's health in the seven years since the Board heard and
decided the case. Pp. 382 U. S.
336 F.2d 543, reversed and remanded.
MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
The petitioner, Gunther, worked as a fireman for respondent
railroad for eight years, from 1916 to 1924, and as an engineer for
30 years, from 1924 until December 30, 1954. On that date, shortly
after his seventy-first birthday, he was removed from active
service because of an alleged physical disability. The railroad's
action was taken on the basis of reports made by its physicians,
after physical examinations of petitioner, that, in their opinion,
he was no longer physically qualified to work as a locomotive
engineer because his "heart was in such condition that he would be
likely to suffer an acute coronary episode." Dissatisfied with the
railroad doctors' findings, Mr. Gunther went to a recognized
specialist who, after examination, concluded that petitioner was
qualified physically to continue work as an engineer. On the basis
of this report, petitioner requested the railroad to join him in
the selection a three-doctor board to reexamine his physical
qualifications for return to service. The railroad refused. This
disagreement led to prolonged litigation which has reached us 11
years after the controversy arose.
When the railroad refused to consent to the appointment of a new
board of doctors to reexamine petitioner
Page 382 U. S. 259
or to restore him to service, he filed a claim for reinstatement
and back pay with the Railroad Adjustment Board, which was created
by § 3 of the Railway Labor Act, as amended, [Footnote 1
] to adjust, among other things,
disputes of railroads and their employees "growing out of
grievances or out of the interpretation or application of
agreements concerning . . . rules, or working conditions. . . ."
] The Adjustment
Board, over the protests of the railroad, decided it had
jurisdiction of the grievance and then, referring to past practice
in similar cases, proceeded, as its findings show, to appoint a
committee of three qualified physicians, to reexamine
"one chosen by carrier and one by the employee, and the third by
the two so selected, for the purpose of determining the facts as to
claimant's disability and the propriety of his removal from
service. . . ."
Subsequently, this committee of doctors examined petitioner and
decided by a majority vote that he was physically qualified to act
as an engineer, contrary to the prior findings of the railroad's
doctors. Upon the basis of these findings, the Adjustment Board
decided that the railroad had been wrong in disqualifying
petitioner for service, and sustained his claim "for reinstatement
with pay for all time lost from October 15, 1955. . . ." The
railroad refused to comply with the Board's order, and petitioner
as authorized by the Act [Footnote
Page 382 U. S. 260
filed this action in a district court of the United States for
an appropriate court order to enforce the Adjustment Board's award.
After hearings, the District Court, in its third opinion in the
case, held the award erroneous and refused to enforce it. [Footnote 4
] The District Court's
refusal was based on its conclusion that there were no express or
implied provisions in the collective bargaining contract which, in
the court's judgment, limited in any way what it found to be the
absolute right of the railroad, in absence of such provisions, to
remove petitioner from active service whenever its physicians found
in good faith "that plaintiff was physically disqualified from such
service." The Court of Appeals affirmed, agreeing with the
interpretation put upon the contract by the District Court, and
thereby rejected the Board's interpretation of the contract and its
decision on the merits of the dispute. 336 F.2d 543. We granted
certiorari because the holding of the two courts below seemed, in
several respects, to run counter to the requirements of the Railway
Labor Act as we have construed it. 380 U.S. 905.
I. Section 3, First(i) of the Railway Labor Act provides
"disputes between an employee or group of
Page 382 U. S. 261
employees and a carrier or carriers growing out of grievances or
out of the interpretation or application of agreements"
are to be handled by the Adjustment Board. In § 3, Congress has
established an expert body to settle "minor" grievances like
petitioner's which arise from day to day in the railroad industry.
The Railway Adjustment Board, composed equally of representatives
of management and labor, is peculiarly familiar with the thorny
problems and the whole range of grievances that constantly exist in
the railroad world. Its membership is in daily contact with workers
and employers, and knows the industry's language, customs, and
practices. See Slocum v. Delaware, L. & W. R. Co.,
339 U. S. 239
339 U. S.
-244. The Board's decision here, fairly read, shows
that it construed the collective bargaining provisions which
secured seniority rights, together with other provisions of the
contract, as justifying an interpretation of the contract
guaranteeing to petitioner "priority in service according to his
seniority and pursuant to the agreement so long as he is physically
qualified." The District Court, whose opinion was affirmed by the
Court of Appeals, however, refused to accept the Board's
interpretation of this contract. Paying strict attention only to
the bare words of the contract, and invoking old common law rules
for the interpretation of private employment contracts, the
District Court found nothing in the agreement restricting the
railroad's right to remove its employees for physical disability
upon the good faith findings of disability by its own physicians.
Certainly it cannot be said that the Board's interpretation was
wholly baseless and completely without reason. We hold that the
District Court and the Court of Appeals as well went beyond their
province in rejecting the Adjustment Board's interpretation of this
railroad collective bargaining agreement. As hereafter pointed out,
Congress, in the Railway Labor Act, invested the Adjustment
Page 382 U. S. 262
with the broad power to arbitrate grievances and plainly
intended that interpretation of these controversial provisions
should be submitted for the decision of railroad men, both workers
and management, serving on the Adjustment Board with their long
experience and accepted expertise in this field.
II. The courts below were also of the opinion that the Board
went beyond its jurisdiction in appointing a medical board of three
physicians to decide for it the question of fact relating to
petitioner's physical qualifications to act as an engineer. We do
not agree. The Adjustment Board, of course, is not limited to
common law rules of evidence in obtaining information. The medical
board was composed of three doctors, one of whom was appointed by
the company, one by petitioner, and the third by these two doctors.
This not only seems an eminently fair method of selecting doctors
to perform this medical task, but it appears from the record that
it is commonly used in the railroad world for the very purpose it
was used here. In fact, the record shows that, under respondent's
present collective bargaining agreement with its engineers,
provision is made for determining a dispute precisely like the one
before us by the appointment of a board of doctors in precisely the
manner the Board used here. This Court has said that the Railway
Labor Act's "provisions dealing with the Adjustment Board were to
be considered as compulsory arbitration in this limited field."
] On a question like
the one before us here, involving the health of petitioner and his
physical ability to operate an engine, arbitrators would probably
find it difficult to find a better method for arriving at the truth
than by the use of doctors selected as these doctors were. We
reject the idea that the Adjustment
Page 382 U. S. 263
Board in some way breached its duty or went beyond its power in
relying as it did upon the finding of this board of doctors.
III. Section 3, First(m), provides that Adjustment Board awards
"shall be final and binding upon both parties to the dispute,
except insofar as they shall contain a money award." [Footnote 6
] The award of the Board in this
case, based on the central finding that petitioner was wrongfully
removed from service is twofold, consisting both of an order of
reinstatement and the money award for lost earnings. Thus, there
arises the question of whether the District Court may open up the
Board's finding on the merits that the railroad wrongfully removed
petitioner from his job merely because one part of the Board's
order contained a money award. We hold it cannot. This Court time
and again has emphasized and reemphasized that Congress intended
minor grievances of railroad workers to be decided finally by the
Railroad Adjustment Board. In Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen
v. Chicago River & Indiana R. Co., 353 U. S.
, the Court gave a Board decision the same finality
that a decision of arbitrators would have. In Union Pacific R.
Co. v. Price, 360 U. S. 601
Court discussed the legislative history of the Act at length and
pointed out that it "was designed for effective and final decision
of grievances which arise daily," and that its
"statutory scheme cannot realistically be squared with the
contention that Congress did not purpose to foreclose litigation in
the courts over grievances submitted to and disposed of by the
Board. . . ."
360 U.S. at 360 U. S. 616
Also, in Locomotive Engineers v. Louisville & Nashville R.
Co., 373 U. S. 33
Court said that prior decisions of this Court had made it clear
that the Adjustment Board provisions were to be considered as
"compulsory arbitration in this limited
Page 382 U. S. 264
field," p. 373 U. S. 40
"the complete and final means for settling minor disputes," p.
373 U. S. 39
and "a mandatory, exclusive, and comprehensive system for resolving
grievance disputes." P. 373 U. S.
The Railway Labor Act, as construed in the foregoing and other
opinions of this Court, does not allow a federal district court to
review an Adjustment Board's determination of the merits of a
grievance merely because a part of the Board's award, growing from
its determination on the merits, is a money award. The basic
grievance here -- that is, the complaint that petitioner has been
wrongfully removed from active service as an engineer because of
health -- has been finally, completely, and irrevocably settled by
the Adjustment Board's decision. Consequently, the merits of the
wrongful removal issue as decided by the Adjustment Board must be
accepted by the District Court.
IV. There remains the question of further proceedings in this
case with respect to the money aspect of the Board's award. The
Board did not determine the amount of back pay due petitioner on
account of his wrongful removal from service. It merely sustained
petitioner's claim for "reinstatement with pay for all time lost
from October 15, 1955." Though the Board's finding on the merits of
the wrongful discharge must be accepted by the District Court, it
has power under the Act to determine the size of the money award.
The distinction between court review of the merits of a grievance
and the size of the money award was drawn in Locomotive
Engineers v. Louisville & Nashville R. Co., supra,
373 U. S. 40
when it was said that the computation of a time-lost award is "an
issue wholly separable from the merits of the wrongful discharge
issue." On this separable issue, the District Court may determine
in this action how much time has been lost by reason of the
wrongful removal of petitioner from active service, and
Page 382 U. S. 265
any proper issues that can be raised with reference to the
amount of money necessary to compensate for the time lost. In
deciding this issue as to how much money petitioner will be
entitled to receive because of lost time, the District Court will
bear in mind the fact that the decision on the merits of the
wrongful removal issue related to the time when the Board heard and
decided the case. Eleven years have elapsed since that time, long
enough for many changes to have occurred in connection with
petitioner's health. This would, of course, be relevant in
determining the amount of money to be paid him in a lawsuit which
can, as the statute provides, proceed on this separable issue "in
all respects as other civil suits" where damages must be
The judgments of the courts below are reversed, and the cause is
remanded to the District Court for consideration not inconsistent
with this opinion.
Reversed and remanded.
48 Stat. 1185, 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq.
Section 3, First(i), 48 Stat. 1191, 45 U.S.C. § 153, First(i)
(1964 ed.). This section also provides that disputes between
railroad employees and their employers,
"failing to reach an adjustment . . . may be referred by
petition of the parties or by either party to the appropriate
division of the Adjustment Board with a full statement of the facts
and all supporting data bearing upon the disputes."
Section 3, First(p), 48 Stat. 1192, 45 U.S.C. § 153, First(p)
(1964 ed.), provides:
"If a carrier does not comply with an order of a division of the
Adjustment Board within the time limit in such order, the
petitioner . . . may file in the District Court of the United
States for the district in which he resides or in which is located
the principal operating office of the carrier . . . a petition
setting forth briefly . . . the order of the division of the
Adjustment Board in the premises. Such suit in the District Court
of the United States shall proceed in all respects as other civil
suits, except that on the trial of such suit the findings and order
of the division of the Adjustment Board shall be prima facie
evidence of the facts therein stated. . . . The district courts are
empowered, under the rules of the court governing actions at law,
to make such order and enter such judgment, by writ of mandamus or
otherwise, as may be appropriate to enforce or set aside the order
of the division of the Adjustment Board."
192 F. Supp. 882, 198 F. Supp. 402. The third opinion written by
the court is not reported.
Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Chicago River &
Indiana R. Co., 353 U. S. 30
353 U. S.
48 Stat. 1191, 45 U.S.C. § 153, First(m) (1964 ed.).