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BROWN v. GINO MORENA ENTERPRISES

March 26, 1999

SHIRLEY BROWN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GINO MORENA ENTERPRISES AND UNITED FOOD & COMMERCIAL WORKERS UNION CHARTERED BY UFCW AFL — CIO, CLC LOCAL 400, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stanley S. Harris, District Judge.

  OPINION

Before the Court are defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 56 and related pleadings.*fn1 Upon careful consideration, summary judgment is granted in favor of defendants on plaintiff's claim pursuant to § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185, and plaintiff's pendent state law claims for defamation are dismissed without prejudice. "Findings of fact and conclusions of law are unnecessary on decisions of motions under Rule 12 or 56." Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a); Summers v. Department of Justice, 140 F.3d 1077, 1079-80 (D.C.Cir. 1998). Nonetheless, the Court sets forth its reasoning.

Background

Plaintiff, Shirley Brown, was employed by defendant, Gino Morena Enterprises ("Morena") as a beautician at its Boiling Air Force Base location from 1989 until she was terminated on May 5, 1995. Plaintiff's employment, at the time of her termination, was subject to a collective bargaining agreement dated September 24, 1993. The agreement was between defendant Morena and the United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 400 ("Local 400"). It specified that Local 400 was the exclusive bargaining representative of defendant Morena's employees at Boiling Air Force Base.

Plaintiff orally protested her discharge to the union, and in May of 1995, the union's representative, Glenda Spencer, filed a grievance with defendant Morena on plaintiff's behalf. Defendant Morena offered plaintiff substitute employment as a beautician at Andrews Air Force Base on May 19, 1995. Plaintiff rejected this offer.

On June 22, 1995, plaintiff was advised that the union had instructed the Director of Member Services and the union representative to arbitrate her case. On June 28, 1995, the union filed a Demand for Arbitration with the American Arbitration Association. In August of 1995, the union secured an offer of reinstatement for plaintiff to her former position at Boiling Air Force Base and back pay for her three-day suspension and for the period between her termination and the date on which she was offered substitute employment ("settlement offer"). Plaintiff did not accept the offer.

On September 20, 1995, Michael R. Earman, of the union, provided plaintiff with a written explanation of the union's position that arbitration of her grievance was not merited. On October 3, 1995, plaintiff's counsel requested an extension of time to respond to the settlement offer. On November 2, 1995, the August 1995 settlement offer was renewed and held open until November 15, 1995. Plaintiff again chose not to accept the offer.

Plaintiff filed the instant complaint on January 17, 1996. She brings this "hybrid" action pursuant to § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (" § 301"), 29 U.S.C. § 185.*fn2 She alleges wrongful discharge by defendant Morena, her former employer, and breach of the duty of fair representation on the part of Local 400. Plaintiff also contends that conduct taken by defendant Morena supports two pendent state law claims for defamation.

Legal Standards

A. § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act

The circumstances under which an employee may litigate an alleged breach of contract by an employer where the relationship between the employer and employee is governed by a collective bargaining agreement are limited. "Because most collective-bargaining agreements accord finality to grievance or arbitration procedures established by the collective-bargaining agreement, an employee normally cannot bring a § 301 action against an employer unless he can show that the union breached its duty of fair representation in its handling of his grievance." Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers, Local 391 v. Terry, 494 U.S. 558, 564, 110 S.Ct. 1339, 108 L.Ed.2d 519 (1990). Furthermore, any pendent claims by such an employee are preempted by § 301 if the application of state law requires the interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement. Lingle v. Norge Div. of Magic Chef, Inc., 486 U.S. 399, 413, 108 S.Ct. 1877, 100 L.Ed.2d 410 (1988).

In determining whether an employee has asserted a viable § 301 action, the Court must initially determine the threshold issue of whether a bargaining representative has breached its duty of fair representation. The union's status as its member's exclusive bargaining agent includes an obligation "to serve the interests of all members without hostility or discrimination toward any, to exercise its discretion with complete good faith and honesty, and to avoid arbitrary conduct." Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 177, 87 S.Ct. 903, 17 L.Ed.2d 842 (1967). Accordingly, a breach of this duty of fair representation occurs "only when a union's conduct toward a member of the collective bargaining unit is arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith." Vaca, 386 U.S. at 190, 87 S.Ct. 903.

"Because . . . the very nature of collective bargaining requires an agent to balance interests that quite often are contradictory, see, e.g., Humphrey v. Moore, 375 U.S. 335, 349-50, 84 S.Ct. 363, 11 L.Ed.2d 370 (1964), it is clear that `a wide range of reasonableness must be allowed a statutory bargaining representative in serving the unit it represents.'" Caudle v. Pan American World Airways, Inc., 676 F. Supp. 314, 317 (D.D.C. 1987) (quoting Ford Motor Co. v. Huffman, 345 U.S. 330, 338, 73 S.Ct. 681, 97 L.Ed. 1048 (1953)). "[A] union does not breach its duty of fair representation, and thereby open up a suit by the employee for breach of contract, merely because it settle[s][a] grievance short of arbitration." Vaca, 386 U.S. at 192, 87 S.Ct. 903. Furthermore, the union's settlement of a grievance does not constitute a breach of the duty of fair representation simply because the union does not obtain the full relief sought or because the affected union member is not satisfied with the terms of the settlement. Shane v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 868 F.2d 1057, 1061 (9th Cir. 1989) (union did not breach its duty of fair representation when it accepted "a settlement which gave the employees reinstatement, back pay (less one month), and a return to seniority. . . ."); Scott v. Machinists Automotive Trades Dist. Lodge No. 190 of N. Cal., 827 F.2d 589, 593 (9th Cir. 1987) (union did not breach its duty of fair representation when it settled a grievance for back pay less eight days pay because it thought that was a reasonable settlement); Dukes v. Bethlehem Steel Corp., 677 F. Supp. 390, 397 (D.Md. 1987) (union did not breach duty of fair representation when it accepted what plaintiff considered to be "an unreasonably low settlement figure"); Ross v. Runyon, 156 F.R.D. 150, 156 (S.D.Tex. 1994) (union did not breach duty of fair representation by settling discharge grievance by agreeing to 30-day suspension); Slavich v. UAW, Local 551, 1991 WL 353368 (N.D.Ill. 1991) (union did not breach duty of fair representation when it settled a discharge grievance waiving back pay for the period employee received partial unemployment compensation and agreeing to a new 12-month probationary period). Nor does mere negligence does constitute a breach of the duty of fair representation. See Barr v. United Parcel Service, 868 F.2d 36, 43 (2d Cir. 1989); Scott, 827 F.2d at 594; Ruzicka v. General Motors Corp., 649 F.2d 1207, 1212 (6th Cir. 1981); Watkins v. Communications Workers of America, Local 2336, 736 F. Supp. 1156, 1160 (D.D.C. 1990). Cf. International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. NLRB, 587 F.2d 1176, 1181 (D.C.Cir. 1978). As indicated above, the union does not breach its duty of fair representation unless its conduct is arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith. Vaca, 386 U.S. at 190, 87 S.Ct. 903.

B. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment may be granted only if the pleadings and evidence "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In considering a motion for summary judgment, all evidence and inferences must be viewed in a fight most favorable to the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). Summary judgment cannot be granted "if the evidence is such that ...


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