FREDERICK B. HOLLIE, Plaintiff,
TEAMSTERS LOCAL UNION No. 639, Defendant.
ELLEN SEGAL HUVELLE, United States District Judge
Frederick Hollie has sued his former union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local Union No. 639 (“Union”), alleging that the Union breached its duty of fair representation in handling his pre- and post-termination grievances. The Union has moved for summary judgment. (Motion for Summary Judgment, Mar. 8, 2013 [ECF No. 27] (“Mot.”).) The Court held oral argument on the motion on June 13, 2013. At that hearing, the Court ruled that the Union’s motion would be denied. (See Order (June 13, 2013) [ECF No. 30].) This Memorandum Opinion sets out the reasons for that decision.
Plaintiff is a former employee of the United Parcel Service (“UPS”). (Defendant’s Statement of Material Facts as to Which There Is No Genuine Dispute, Mar. 8, 2013 [ECF No. 27] (“Def.’s Facts”) ¶ 1; Plaintiff’s Statement of Disputed Material Facts, Mar. 29, 2013 [ECF No. 28] (“Pl.’s Facts”) at 1.) Defendant is a labor organization affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters that represents members working in the Washington, D.C. area. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 1; Pl.’s Facts at 1-2.) At all times relevant to this litigation, defendant and UPS were parties to a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) that established grievance procedures for resolving workplace disputes. (See Def.’s Facts ¶¶ 1-2; Pl.’s Facts at 2-3.)
I. GRIEVANCE PROCEDURES
For disputes concerning matters other than terminations or suspensions, an employee has five work days in which to file a grievance with the union shop steward, who must then present the grievance to a UPS manager. (Def.’s Facts ¶¶ 2-3; Pl.’s Facts at 5.) For terminations and suspensions, the employee has ten days in which to file the initial grievance. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 3; Pl.’s Facts at 7; Mot. Ex. 3, CBA at 192.) Once a grievance is filed, the shop steward must then attempt to set up a center-level meeting with himself, the UPS supervisor, and the grievant within 48 hours. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 3; Pl.’s Facts at 5; Mot. Ex. 3, CBA at 187.) If the grievance remains unresolved after the center-level meeting, the shop steward must attempt to set up a local-level meeting with UPS management within five days. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 3; Pl.’s Facts at 6; Mot. Ex. 3, CBA at 187.) If the grievance is still unresolved at that time, it is to be submitted in writing to the Atlantic Area Parcel Grievance Committee (“AAPGC”) within ten days. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 3; Pl.’s Facts at 6; Mot. Ex. 3, CBA at 187.) The AAPGC panel consists of two or three union committee members, an equal number of employer committee members, and, in cases of discharge or suspension, an impartial arbitrator. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 4; Pl.’s Facts at 8; Mot. Ex. 3, CBA at 188, 190.)
A. Pre-Termination Grievances
Prior to January 2009, plaintiff was a driver for UPS. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 4; Pl.’s Facts at 10.) In January 2009, plaintiff was reassigned to the pre-load department. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 4; Pl.’s Facts at 10.) On January 14, 2009, plaintiff was asked by his supervisor whether he had ever unloaded trailers in the past. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 4; Pl.’s Facts at 10-11.) Plaintiff responded that he had previously suffered a shoulder injury while unloading trailers. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 5; Pl.’s Facts at 11.) The following day, plaintiff was told to report to Mike Kelley, the UPS manager in charge of the pre-load area. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 5; Pl.’s Facts at 12.) At that meeting, plaintiff was told that he could not work until he provided a current medical release. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 5; Pl.’s Facts at 12-13.)
On January 22, 2009, plaintiff filed a grievance challenging the requirement that he obtain a medical release before being allowed to work. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 5; Pl.’s Facts at 17.) In particular, plaintiff objected to such a requirement in light of the fact that he had previously filed multiple medical clearances with UPS. (Pl.’s Facts at 11, 17.) The next day, plaintiff spoke with Mr. Anthony Smith, a business agent from the Union. (Id. at 17-18.) Mr. Smith claims that he instructed plaintiff to get an updated physical. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 6.) Plaintiff, however, denies that Mr. Smith gave him such an instruction. (Pl.’s Facts at 18.) He insists that it was his idea, not Mr. Smith’s, to consider proceeding with the physical, but that Mr. Smith responded only that “he would look at that option and discuss it with UPS.” (Id.)
On January 29, 2009, plaintiff, Mr. Kelley, and Union shop steward Donna Levenberry attended a meeting. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 6; Pl.’s Facts at 19.) Defendant characterizes this meeting as a center-level meeting for purposes of addressing plaintiff’s grievance (Def.’s Facts ¶ 6), while plaintiff insists that this meeting did not meet the requirements of a center-level meeting under the CBA. (Pl.’s Facts at 19-20.) At this meeting, Mr. Kelley reiterated that plaintiff’s prior medical releases were insufficient and that plaintiff would need to produce a current release in order to return to work. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 6; Pl.’s Facts at 20.)
Plaintiff then began efforts to obtain the requested medical release. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 17; Pl.’s Facts at 21.) Because he could not afford a medical examination, the Union suggested that he seek government assistance, so plaintiff applied for Medical Assistance from the Income Maintenance Administration on January 27, 2009. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 6; Pl.’s Facts at 21.)
Plaintiff claims that he filed two additional grievances on February 6, 2009, regarding Mr. Kelley’s failure to provide plaintiff with the paperwork necessary for his Medical Assistance application and his non-responsiveness with respect to the January 22 grievance. (Pl.’s Facts at 23.) The Union disputes that it ever received these grievances. (Mot. at 19 n.1.)
B. Post-Termination Grievance
Some time prior to February 19, 2009, UPS determined that plaintiff “would be separated for unauthorized absence” based on his failure to maintain contact with his employer while he was absent from work. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 19; Pl.’s Facts at 24.) UPS sent plaintiff a termination notice dated February 19, 2009. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 20; Pl.’s Facts at 24-25.) The next day, plaintiff received notice from the post office that he had a parcel waiting for him which required his signature. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 21; Pl.’s Facts at 25.) The notice did not indicate who the parcel was from. (Pl.’s Facts at 25.) Although plaintiff was aware that UPS communicated with its employees regarding disciplinary and grievance procedures via certified mail (Def.’s Facts ¶¶ 9-10; Pl.’s Facts at 8-9), he thought the package was a replacement modem that he no longer needed, so he did not act swiftly to retrieve the package. (Pl.’s Facts at 25-26.) Instead, he went to the post office to retrieve the parcel on March 14, 2009. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 21; Pl.’s Facts at 25.) Five days later, on March 19, 2009, plaintiff submitted a grievance regarding his termination. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 22; Pl.’s Facts at 26.)
Because the grievance related to an Article 50 discharge, the shop steward did not seek a center-level meeting, but instead sent the grievance straight to Mr. Smith. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 22.) Mr. Smith and plaintiff discussed the grievance, but disagree as to what was said. Mr. Smith recalls that he told plaintiff that he should first get the requested medical clearance, and then they would try to get him his job back. (Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff disagrees, and insists that “Mr. Smith did not tell Mr. Hollie that he had to get a physical before Mr. Smith would set up a local-level meeting.” (Pl.’s Facts at 27.) Instead, plaintiff claims that after a lengthy reminder about the facts underlying the grievance, Mr. Smith said only that he “would investigate” and “would look into it.” (Id.) Mr. Smith and plaintiff communicated about the grievance a few more times during March and April of 2009, but then had no further contact until February 2010. (Def.’s Facts ¶ 24; Pl.’s Facts at 28-29.) During that ...