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Banks v. International Union of Operating Engineers Local 99

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 27, 2016

Walter Irving Banks, Plaintiff,
International Union of Operating Engineers Local 99, et al., Defendants.


          Amit P. Mehta United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Walter I. Banks claims that his union, Defendant International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 99 ("IUOE"), and certain of its officials and representatives, discriminated against him based on his race, age, and disability while representing him in grievance proceedings against his former employer. Plaintiff also appears to assert that Defendants breached their duty of fair representation in those proceedings. Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint in its entirety, contending that (1) his statutory discrimination claims are preempted by federal labor law; (2) his duty of fair representation claim is barred by the statute of limitations; and (3) his discrimination claims are not plausible.

         For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiff has stated plausible claims of discrimination against IUOE based on race, age, and disability. Those claims against the named IUOE officials and representatives, however, must be dismissed because there is no individual liability under the relevant federal discrimination statutes. Further, Plaintiffs claim for breach of the duty of fair representation is time-barred and therefore must be dismissed.


         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff is a 62-year old African American male, who, until October 2013, was employed as a "material handler" by LB&B Associates, Inc., in Columbia, Maryland. Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1, Compl., ECF No. 1-1, ¶¶ 2-3, 5, 13.[1] In early October 2013, Plaintiff sustained aback injury during a workplace accident. Id. ¶ 5. Shortly thereafter, he filed an injury report with his employer, who fired him roughly a week later, on October 17, 2013. Id.

         Plaintiff then turned to his union-IUOE-for assistance. He first spoke with Defendant Mark Sexton, described by Plaintiff as the "union representative, " who referred him to IUOE's President, Defendant Michael Murphy. Id. ¶¶ 6-7. Murphy advised Plaintiff that his employer had violated the collective bargaining agreement by terminating him and that the union would pursue a grievance on his behalf through arbitration proceedings. Id. ¶ 7. The union hired an outside lawyer, Defendant Jordan Kaplan, to represent Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 8.

         Plaintiff alleges that Kaplan's representation of him was deficient in multiple respects. Kaplan informed Plaintiff that his employer did not want him to return with a disability or with accommodations. Id. ¶ 10. When Plaintiff asked whether his employer's position would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, Kaplan told him that he did not know. Id. Kaplan further advised Plaintiff that the union had no intention of moving forward with arbitration proceedings and suggested that Plaintiff consider retirement as an option because of his age. Id. Kaplan also said that Plaintiffs employer had threatened to fire him again even if Plaintiff were to prevail at arbitration and be reinstated to his position. Finally, Kaplan informed Plaintiff that he had no further recourse and would have to accept the employer's settlement offer of $12, 000-and, even if he refused, the union nonetheless would accept the offer and "close the case." Id.¶ 11.

         Plaintiff further alleges that the union represented white members eight years earlier-in 2006-in similar grievance proceedings and helped them get their jobs back. Id. ¶ 12. He also claims that the union failed to provide him with various policies and other relevant documents during his grievance process. Id. ¶ 13.

         B. Procedural Background

         On August 11, 2015, Plaintiff filed a pro se suit in the District of Columbia Superior Court against IUOE and its individual officials and agents. See generally Compl. His Complaint alleges statutory claims of discrimination based on his race under Title VII, 42 U.SC. § 2000e-2; his age under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.; and his disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. Id. at 1. And, although far from crystal clear, Plaintiff also appears to allege a breach of the union's duty of fair representation. Id. (alleging "In addition, breach of Fair Representation Duty").

         On October 1, 2015, Defendants removed the case to this court. See Notice of Removal. Their Motion to Dismiss followed six days later. See generally Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 3, Defs.' Mem. of P&A in Supp. of their Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 3-1 [hereinafter Defs.' Mot.].


         Where, as here, the plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the court must construe the complaint liberally, and hold it to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, " Erickson v. ...

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