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Gibson v. District of Columbia Public Employee Relations Board

November 29, 2001


Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (98-MPA-31) (Hon. Herbert B. Dixon, Jr., Trial Judge) (Hon. José M. López, Trial Judge)

Before Terry and Farrell, Associate Judges, and Mack, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge

Argued May 9, 2001

Appellant Gibson, a former employee of the District of Columbia Department of Human Services ("DHS"), appeals from a Superior Court order denying her petition for review of a decision of the Public Employee Relations Board ("the Board" or "PERB"). The Board rejected as untimely appellant's claim that DHS committed an unfair labor practice when terminating her employment and ruled, in addition, that appellant had failed to state a claim against her union. Before this court, appellant argues (1) that her complaint against DHS was timely because she did not receive notice of her right to file a complaint with the PERB and, therefore, that the time for filing a complaint was tolled, and (2) that the PERB ruling that she had failed to state a claim against her union was not supported by the record. *fn1 We find these claims without merit, and accordingly we affirm the trial court's order.


A. Background

Appellant was an eighteen-year employee of DHS and was also a member of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees ("AFSCME" or "the union"). From 1987 to 1997, she worked at the Congress Heights Service Center and served as chief shop steward for the union at that location. On January 13, 1997, appellant received notice that she was being transferred from Congress Heights to the Kennedy Street Service Center because of personality conflicts with co-workers.

On September 9, 1997, appellant received a Letter of Reprimand from Kevin Hill, her supervisor at the Kennedy Street Service Center, after Mr. Hill discovered at least forty unprocessed applications in her desk and file cabinets. *fn2 A few weeks later, on October 21, appellant received written notice from Jearline Williams, the Director of DHS, proposing to remove her from her position for "inexcusable neglect of duty." Thereafter DHS appointed a disinterested designee to review appellant's case. The designee recommended that appellant receive a thirty-day suspension without pay in lieu of removal and suggested that she "be afforded an opportunity to receive technical assistance in performing her assigned duties."

Notwithstanding that recommendation, on December 16, 1997, appellant received from Ms. Williams a "final notice" of her decision to terminate appellant from her position, effective January 2, 1998. The proposed removal was based on appellant's failure to process the applications found by her supervisor. The notice informed appellant of her right to file a grievance within forty-five days from the effective date of her removal, in accordance with the negotiated grievance procedure set forth in her union contract, and, alternatively, her right to appeal from the removal to the Office of Employee Appeals no later than fifteen business days after its effective date. The notice also stated that appellant "must select one of these options for appeal," but it did not mention appellant's additional right to seek review of her removal by filing a complaint with the PERB.

On January 7 and 8, 1998, appellant met with Gwen Jones, the union's shop steward, at the suggestion of Beverly Neal, the president of the union's local chapter. Appellant and Ms. Jones discussed appellant's desire to have the union grieve her removal from her position at the Kennedy Street Service Center. On March 31, however, Ms. Neal informed appellant that the union would not file a grievance.

On May 26, 1998, appellant filed a complaint with the PERB, alleging that DHS had committed an unfair labor practice when it removed her from her position and that the union had committed an unfair labor practice by failing to file a grievance on her behalf. Appellant's initial complaint against the union consisted merely of her statement that she had met with Ms. Jones and that she later learned in a conversation with Ms. Neal and Ms. Jones that the union would not grieve her dismissal. After reviewing the complaint, PERB sent appellant a letter informing her that it was deficient in several respects, one of which was the absence of "a clear and concise statement of the facts constituting the alleged violation, including the date and the place of the occurrence and a citation to the provisions of D.C. Law 2-139 alleged to have been violated." *fn3 Appellant then filed a supplement to her complaint in which she stated that her removal "was punishment disproportionate to the . . . cause of the punishment, and the allegations . . . that resulted in her removal were unsupported by the evidence." She emphasized that the disinterested designee and appellant's immediate supervisor had both recommended a lesser punishment. She also reiterated her assertion that the union had violated the CMPA by failing to file a grievance on her behalf.

B. The PERB Decision

The Executive Director of PERB, Julio Castillo, issued a decision dismissing appellant's complaint because it was "not timely with respect to DHS" and because it "fail[ed] to state a basis for a claim [against her union] under the [Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act]." Mr. Castillo noted that PERB Rule 520.4 imposes a 120-day time limit on the filing of complaints and that, because appellant's complaint was filed 161 days after she received her final notice of removal, it was not timely as to DHS. As for appellant's claim against her union, Castillo stated that a union breaches its duty of fair representation only if "the union's conduct [is] arbitrary, discriminatory or in bad faith, or . . . based on considerations that are irrelevant, invidious, or unfair." *fn4 Since appellant's complaint "relie[d] solely on the fact that the union failed to file a grievance" and "assert[ed] no basis for attributing a prohibit[ed] motive to the union's failure to file a grievance," Castillo concluded that there was no allegation on which an unfair labor practice claim could be based.

Appellant filed a petition in the Superior Court for review of the PERB decision. The court affirmed that decision for the reasons ...

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