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Arbitrator Reverses USP Leavenworth Correctional Counselor's AWOL Designation

On November 24, 2000, United States Penitentiary Leavenworth Correctional Counselor Scott Booth decided to take the day off. He had been told by his supervisor, Mark Sedillo, that the 24th would be designated as a "liberal leave day," for anyone who wanted it.

Booth called in on the 24th and left a message with Case Manager Carol Howard, but could not get in touch with a supervisor. Since that had been working procedure during the 14 months he had worked at USP Leavenworth, Booth went on with his day as planned.

But when Booth returned to work as scheduled, he was met with disturbing news: he had been charged with being absent without leave (AWOL) by Unit Manager Sedillo. He was later suspended for one day, without pay.

Booth filed a grievance through his union, the Council of Prison Locals, and the dispute was heard by an arbitrator. The Federal Bureau of Prisons argued that the procedures for taking a sick day are laid out specifically in the employee handbook, and Booth did not follow those procedures. Therefore, he was AWOL.

The union argued that Booth followed the practice as it had been at USP Leavenworth for years. Testimony revealed that the past practice had been to call someone and if you don't get a hold of them, just put a leave slip in a supervisor's box the next day.

Arbitrator Charles F. James, Jr., sided with the union, finding that the Federal Bureau of Prisons had "taken too lightly the whole negative character of the term, AWOL. . . AWOL is a term with extraordinarily negative connotation." Arbitrator James also found that Booth complied with the long established past practice at USP Leavenworth, regardless of what the specifics of the policy guidelines were.

The arbitrator ordered a reversal of Booth's AWOL designation, invalidation of his one-day suspension, and back pay for the one-day suspension.

The documents from this case were obtained by Prison Legal News after a 12-year battle with the Federal Bureau of Prisons over a Freedom of Information Act request.

Source: Federal Bureau of Prisons and Council of Prison Locals, Arbitration Case No. FMCS01-06837 (November 14, 2001).

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