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Noble v. United States Postal Service

March 24, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge


Plaintiff David W. Noble Jr., a long time employee of the United States Postal Service, brings this action under the Postal Reorganization Act, 39 U.S.C. §§ 1201 et. seq. alleging that defendant United States Postal Service ("USPS" or "Postal Service") violated the collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between the Postal Service and co-defendants the National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO, and Branch 142, his local affiliate (collectively "NALC" or "Union"). Specifically, plaintiff alleges that the Postal Service breached Article 8, Section 5.F of the CBA when it required him to work more than ten hours per day on 25 days between October 5, 2004 and April 26, 2005. Compl. ¶ 8. Plaintiff also alleges that the Union has "failed and refused" to process grievances "on plaintiff's behalf concerning his allegation that the Postal Service breached the CBA's overtime restrictions" such that the grievance process is futile. Plaintiff contends this constitutes a breach of the Union's duty of fair representation ("DFR"). Accordingly, plaintiff argues that he is excused from pursuing his breach of contract claim through the grievance-arbitration process and can instead bring it directly in this Court.

Defendant USPS moves to dismiss, or in the alternative for summary judgment, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) and Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the grounds that this Court lacks jurisdiction over plaintiff's breach of contract claim because he has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies via the grievance-arbitration procedure.*fn1 Co-defendants NALC and Branch 142 also move for summary judgment, contending that the "undisputed record demonstrates that the plaintiff never initiated the contractual grievance procedure as to his claims" against USPS and therefore plaintiff has not shown the futility of the grievance process. Def.'s Mot. at 1. They also contend that plaintiff has produced no evidence of Union hostility or arbitrary conduct that would constitute a breach of the DFR. Accordingly, defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment.

Upon consideration of the motions, the responses and replies thereto, the applicable law and the entire record, the Court GRANTS defendants' motions and hereby dismisses this case with prejudice.


A. Factual Background

The plaintiff is a city letter carrier presently employed at the Friendship Station in Washington, D.C. He has been employed as a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service since 1975 and served as a Union shop steward for the Friendship Station from 1999 to 2002. Defendant NALC is the exclusive bargaining representative of all city letter carriers employed by the USPS. At all times relevant to this case, USPS and NALC have been parties to a CBA that sets the terms and conditions of letter carrier employment. Defendant Branch 142 is a local labor organization affiliated with NALC that administers the CBA for letter carriers employed at USPS facilities in Washington, D.C. See Union Statement of Undisputed Facts, ¶¶ 1-5.

Article 15 of the CBA contains a grievance-arbitration procedure which may be used to challenge any action by the USPS involving interpretation or application of the CBA. Union's Mot. at 3. The first step of the grievance procedure is "Informal Step A," which requires that

(a) Any employee who feels aggrieved must discuss the grievance with the employee's immediate supervisor within fourteen (14) days of the date on which the employee or the Union first learned or may reasonably have been expected to have learned of its cause. This constitutes the Informal Step A filing date. The employee, if he or she so desires may be accompanied and represented by the employee's steward or Union representative.

Id. (quoting CBA, Article 15, Sec 2.)(emphasis in original). The Union is also empowered to commence the grievance procedure at Informal Step A within 14 days without the required participation of an individual grievant. Id. The oral conversation that takes place at Informal Step A culminates with the supervisor writing up the claim on a NALC Grievance Worksheet. The supervisor then forwards the worksheet to the Station Branch Manager.

If the grievance is not resolved at the Informal Step A meeting, the employee can then request that the Local Branch fill out the required forms to appeal it to Formal Step A, the next step of the grievance procedure, where the grievant is represented for all purposes by a Union representative or steward. USPS Mot. at 6. At Branch 142, as is typical, the Branch President designates a Formal Step A representative for the Union. This representative would then meet with an area manager designated by the Postmaster of Washington D.C. to engage in the Formal Step A meeting. During the time period relevant to this case, the local Branch 142 President was Mr. Joseph Henry and the designee for Formal Step A grievances for the Friendship Station was Mr. Jacob Thompson.

If the grievance remains unresolved after Formal Step A, the Union may appeal to Step B, and then finally to final and binding arbitration. At Step B and beyond, the grievance is handled by representatives appointed by the national NALC or by elected NALC national representatives. Union Statement, ¶¶ 6-14.

B. Plaintiff's Claim

Count I of plaintiff's complaint alleges that USPS violated the CBA by requiring plaintiff to work over 10 hours per day on 25 occasions between October 5, 2004 and April 26, 2005. Compl. ¶ 8. Plaintiff contends that he suffers from cervical degenerative disc disease, with chronic neck, back, and shoulder pain. He represents that overtime work aggravates his condition and therefore he has never requested to work overtime by placing his name on the overtime desired list ("ODL"). Id. ¶ 6. Though plaintiff acknowledges that he was paid penalty overtime in accordance with the CBA for the overtime hours he worked, he maintains that the terms of the CBA expressly prohibit ever requiring a letter carrier to work over 10 hours on a regularly scheduled day. Id. ¶ 12. Both the Postal Service and the Union disagree with plaintiff's interpretation ...

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