United States District Court, District of Columbia
RANDOLPH D. MOSS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Sonsia Stewart, a former security officer, was fired by
Paragon Systems, Inc. after allegedly falling asleep on the
job. Her union, International Union, Security, Police and
Fire Professionals of America (“SPFPA”),
represented her during the grievance process, and she now
asserts two claims against SPFPA stemming from her dismissal
and those proceedings. She argues, first, that SPFPA breached
its duty of fair representation by failing to press certain
arguments with Paragon. Second, she contends that SPFPA
breached the collective bargaining agreement between the
union and Paragon by failing to ensure that she was
reinstated or that the discipline that Paragon imposed was
“otherwise modif[ied].” Dkt. 7 at 43 (Compl.
¶ 74). SPFPA has moved to dismiss for failure to state a
claim, arguing that Stewart's duty of fair representation
claim is time barred and that her contract claim is preempted
by the Labor Management Relations Act. For the reasons
explained below, the Court will GRANT the
union's motion to dismiss.
complaint, Dkt. 7 at 32-54,  sets forth the relevant facts,
which the Court must accept as true for purposes of the
pending motion. See Wood v. Moss, --- U.S. ---, 134
S.Ct. 2056, 2065-67 & n.5 (2014).
September 2009, Paragon hired Stewart to work the night shift
as a Special Police Officer at a federal office building in
the District of Columbia. Dkt. 7 at 33-34 (Compl.
¶¶ 9- 10). As a Special Police Officer, Stewart was
required to patrol the building throughout the evening and to
stop at various checkpoints, but she was also permitted
several breaks. Id. at 34 (Compl. ¶¶
11-16). In the early hours of July 11, 2013, Stewart
completed a “checkpoint” visit and retired to the
women's locker room for a break. Id. at 36
(Compl. ¶ 30). She took off her utility belt and placed
it on a nearby table so that she could straighten her
uniform. Id. (Compl. ¶ 31). Denise Bright, a
colleague with whom Stewart had quarreled, entered the room.
Id. at 34-36 (Compl. ¶¶ 19-29, 31).
Stewart “sat down and looked down to avoid seeing or
conversing with [Officer Bright].” Id. at 36
(Compl. ¶ 33). When she “did not hear Officer
Bright moving around, ” Stewart “became concerned
[and] turned around to see what Officer Bright was
doing.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 34). At that
moment, “Officer Bright placed her phone in . . .
Stewart's face and took a picture of [Stewart].”
Id. (Compl. ¶ 34). The photo depicts Stewart
with “her eyes . . . closed and her equipment at her
side.” Id. at 37 (Compl. ¶ 39).
Officer Bright sent a copy of the photo to a more senior
officer and reported to him that Stewart had been sleeping
while on duty. Id. (Compl. ¶ 37).
August 8, 2013, Stewart was summoned to a meeting with two
senior officers and the union president. Id. (Compl.
¶ 38). At the meeting, “[s]he was presented with a
picture of herself in the women's locker room from July
11, 2013, [that] appeared to show that her eyes were
closed.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 38). She was
suspended that day and fired on August 20, 2013, for
“neglect of duty and post abandonment.”
Id. at 52 (termination letter); see Id. at
37 (Compl. ¶¶ 39-40).
virtue of her employment at Paragon, Stewart became a member
of SPFPA Local 296, “the sole and exclusive bargaining
representative of [Paragon] employees.” Id. at
33 (Compl. ¶¶ 7-8). As relevant here, the
collective bargaining agreement between Paragon and SPFPA
No employee shall be discharged or disciplined without just
cause, and discharge and discipline matters shall be subject
to the grievance and arbitration procedures contained in the
[a]greement. However, an arbitrator shall not have the
authority to reduce a discharge or modify the discipline
imposed by the Company for a proven violation of any of the
following: . . . Neglect of Duty (including sleeping while on
duty[)] [and] Unauthorized [P]ost [A]bandonment.
Id. at 42-43 (Compl. ¶ 71) (quoting agreement).
her termination, Stewart and SPFPA initiated the grievance
process set forth in the agreement. Id. at 37
(Compl. ¶ 41). Her union representative, Guy Thomas,
informed her that he would seek reinstatement and backpay on
her behalf and that she could “enter arbitration with
the union to settle the case.” Id. (Compl.
¶ 42). Meanwhile, Stewart applied for unemployment
benefits from the District of Columbia. Id. at 38
(Compl. ¶ 44). Her claim was initially denied on the
grounds that she had been fired for “gross misconduct,
” but she appealed and represented herself at a hearing
before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”).
Id. (Compl. ¶ 44). The ALJ reversed the denial
of unemployment benefits in November 2015. Id.
(Compl. ¶ 44).
April 2014, Thomas met briefly with Paragon representatives
to schedule a meeting to discuss Stewart's termination.
Id. at 37 (Compl. ¶ 43). Shortly thereafter,
Stewart called him “to discuss what had happened at her
unemployment hearing.” Id. at 38 (Compl.
¶ 44). She informed Thomas that “the ALJ did not
find evidence that she was asleep [while] working on July 9,
2013 [sic] . . . nor evidence that she had abandoned
her post.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 45). Thomas
replied that the ALJ's findings “did not
matter.” Id. (Compl. ¶ 46). After meeting
with Paragon's representatives a second time, Thomas
“inform[ed] [Stewart that] she would not be rehired or
receive [backpay]” due to the photo. Id.
(Compl. ¶ 47). Stewart asked Thomas to proceed to
arbitration “as was her right” under the
collective bargaining agreement, but Thomas responded that
the union would not pursue arbitration. Id. (Compl.
¶ 48). Stewart last spoke with Thomas on May 11, 2014.
Id. at 38 (Compl. ¶ 49). He informed her that
“the [u]nion fail[ed] to properly represent her[, ]
thus officially ending her employment.” Id.
(Compl. ¶ 49).
October 2016, Stewart filed this action in D.C. Superior
Court against SPFPA and Paragon. Her claims against Paragon
for wrongful termination and breach of the collective
bargaining agreement were dismissed after she failed to serve
Paragon in a timely manner. See Dkt. 1-4 at 1; Dkt.
7 at 16. With respect to SPFPA, she alleges that the union
breached both its duty of fair representation and the
collective bargaining agreement. Dkt. 7 at 40-43 (Compl.
¶¶ 50-56, 70-75). She seeks $174, 000 in damages
and attorney's fees. Id. at 43-44 (Compl.
Request for Relief).
removed the action to this Court, Dkt. 1, and has now moved
to dismiss for failure to state a claim, Dkt. 4. The union
contends that Stewart's duty of fair representation claim
is time barred and that her contract claim is preempted by
§ 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act
(“LMRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 185. Dkt. 4-1 at 4-6.