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Sheridan v. United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America

July 2, 1962


Author: Kalodner

Before McLAUGHLIN, KALODNER and HASTIE, Circuit Judges.

KALODNER, C. J.: Does the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959*fn1 afford a remedy to a business agent of a union who has been removed from his elected office prior to the expiration of its term by the vote of the membership of the union?

That issue, of first impression at the appellate level, is presented on this appeal from the judgment of the District Court*fn2 granting money damages to the plaintiff, Paul J. Sheridan, against the defendant, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Local No. 626 ("Union") following his ouster as its business agent.

The facts, as found by the District Court, may be stated as follows:

Plaintiff was elected business agent of Union on June 17, 1959, for a two-year term. One of his duties as business agent was to assign jobs, when available, to unemployed union members. A member could not obtain employment on a job at which Union's members were working unless plaintiff issued him a referral slip.

On September 26, 1960, Richard Toy, Union's shop steward on a construction project in New Castle County, Delaware, telephoned plaintiff, requesting that several carpenters be assigned to that job. Toy, knowing that Albert Burke, a member of Union, wanted to work at the project, asked that Burke be included among those to be assigned. Plaintiff replied that he would not honor this latter request because Burke had not been out of work long enough. The next day Burke, who knew that Toy had requested plaintiff to assign him to the job, came to the union hall and asked plaintiff for a referral slip. Plaintiff refused, stating that Toy had not asked for Burke and that the job had been filled.Although Burke had been unemployed for two weeks, plaintiff designated one William Loyd for the job; Lloyd had been out of work only three days. Burke then left and saw Toy, who verified the fact that he had requested plaintiff to assign Burke to the job. Believing that plaintiff had prevented him from securing employment, Burke returned to the union hall, where he "pushed" or "knocked" plaintiff. Later that day plaintiff had Burke arrested, and on October 21, 1960, in the Municipal Court of Wilmington, Delaware, Burke was convicted of having assaulted plaintiff. The District Court found that plaintiff was acting in a "nonofficial capacity" when he had Burke arrested and prosecuted.

On October 6, 1960, Burke filed charges within Union alleging that plaintiff had violated sections 43L and 56A of the Constitution and Laws of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, the parent brotherhood of which Union is a local affiliate. These sections read:

"Section 43L: "No member shall injure another member by undermining such member in prices or wages, nor commit any wilful act by which the reputation of the member is injured or employment jeopardized."

Section 56A: ". . . A member must exhaust all resources allowed by the Constitution and Laws of the United Brotherhood before taking a case to the civil courts."

Plaintiff was tried on these charges before a union trial committee on the evening of November 2, 1960. Burke, in testifying before the committee, made two contentions in support of the section 43L charge; first, that by keeping him off the job plaintiff had "jeopardized" his employment; and second, that by bringing the Municipal Court action plaintiff had injured Burke's reputation so that he could not secure a Civil Service or Government job. In support of the charge under section 56A, Burke contended that plaintiff had carried his grievance with him to the Municipal Court before exhausting all the resources within the union provided by the Constitution of the United Brotherhood. The trial committee found plaintiff guilty of violating both sections. Later that same evening at a meeting of Union's membership, the members, after receiving a report of the trial committee's action, voted to remove plaintiff from office. The trial judge found that "this penalty was imposed because of the two offenses and not with respect to either of the two offenses separately." Plaintiff has received no compensation as business agent since his removal on November 2, 1960.

On January 4, 1961, plaintiff instituted this suit, seeking both reinstatement as business agent and recovery of back wages and employment benefits since his removal from office.*fn3

Section 101(a)(4) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act provides that "no labor organization shall limit the right of any member thereof to institute an action in any court. . . ."*fn4 Section 609 provides that "it shall be unlawful for any labor organization . . . to fine, suspend, expel, or otherwise discipline any of its members for exercising any right to which he is entitled under the provisions of this Act."*fn5 Section 609 is enforceable by a suit for "appropriate" relief under Section 102.*fn6 The District Court held that plaintiff, in having Burke arrested and prosecuted, was exercising a right vouchsafed to him by Section 101(a)(4), and that Union, by removing plaintiff from office because he had exercised this right, had "disciplined" him in violation of Section 609. The District Court considered it "inappropriate", however, to reinstate him as business agent, inasmuch as (1) "an untenable situation would be created if plaintiff were restored to office and the union membership were subjected to his decision in matters of importance when it did not want him" and (2) less than two weeks remained before the expiration of his term of office.*fn7 Since Union had introduced no evidence to show that plaintiff could have mitigated his damages by obtaining other employment, the District Court awarded plaintiff his full salary as business agent for the period from his removal on November 2, 1960, until the expiration of his term of office on June 16, 1961.

On this appeal Union contends, as it did in the court below, that the District Court lacked "jurisdiction" of the subject matter for these reasons: (1) The Act does not apply to a union-employee or officer relationship with the union; and (2) Plaintiff failed to exhaust intra-union appellate procedures before starting the instant suit.*fn8

This opinion will relate only to the first of the two points stated, viz., the sweep of the Act with respect to union members who are employees or officers of their union: that of Judge Hastie will deal with the second point, relating to exhaustion of intra-union remedies.

In support of its first point, Union urges that Title I of the Act, which contains the right-to-sue provision (Section 101(a)(4)), protects the rights of union members as members and not as officers or employees of unions; that Union "had the right to discharge the Plaintiff for any reason which to its members appeared sufficient and that the Act conferred no jurisdiction on the District Court to inquire into the . . . reason for Plaintiff's removal from office"; and that "no employer must account to a Federal Court under any provision of the Act for discharging an employee." Plaintiff, on the other hand, contends that while "as a general proposition" it is true that the Act does not protect officers or employees of unions, jurisdiction nevertheless does exist here inasmuch as the disciplinary sanction of removal from office was imposed on him for his conduct as a member.

Initially, it must be pointed out that the parties have erred in labeling this as a jurisdictional issue. As we stated in Hughes v. Local 11 of International Ass'n of Bridge Workers, 287 F.2d 810, 814 (1961), cert. denied, 368 U.S. 829 (1961), which also arose under the Labor-Management Repo has been that the assertion of a substantial claim under a federal statute gives a United States court jurisdiction of that claim even though that court may determine ultimately that no cause of action on which relief could have been granted was alleged." Accordingly, we will treat Union's contention as an assertion that plaintiff has failed to plead or prove a violation of the Act.

Plaintiff claims that he was exercising a right protected by Section 101(a)(4) when he had Burke prosecuted, and that Union disciplined him in violation of Section 609 by removing him from office for his having exercised this right. Union does not controvert the proposition that Section 101(a)(4) protects plaintiff's right to institute criminal proceedings against Burke. Our inquiry on this score is therefore narrowed to the question whether the removal of plaintiff from office was a form of "discipline" as that term is used in Section 609. As earlier noted, the Section declares it unlawful for a labor organization to "fine, suspend, expel, or otherwise discipline any of its members" for exercising a right protected by the Act. The word "discipline" is not defined in the statute. This term appears to have been selected as a catchall to cover various sanctions other than fine, suspension, and expulsion. But to say that a word is a catchall does not "define what it catThe language of the Section affords no support for the view that the term "discipline" encompasses removal from office. The three disciplinary sanctions that are specifically enumerated in that section - fine, suspension, and expulsion - manifest an intention by Congress to protect members qua members . Removal from office, on the other hand, is a sanction that can be directed only against the limited group of members who happen to be officers. We see no violation of Section 609 in plaintiff's removal from his office.

Neither does Section 101(a)(4), the right-to-sue provision, support plaintiff's claim that the Act protects his status as an officer. Section 101(a)(4) is part of Title I of the Act. This title, captioned "Bill of Rights of Members of Labor Organizations",*fn9 and particularly Section 101, are designed to protect the rights of union members. The rights are repeatedly described as the rights of "any member" or "every member". No memtion is made of rights of union officers or employees. It is of particular interest to note that the right-to-sue provision of the bill that was originally passed by the Senate provided that a labor organization shall not limit "the right of any member or officer thereof to institute an action in any court. . . ." (Italics added).*fn10 The corresponding provision of the bill that was subsequently passed by the House did not contain the word "officer".*fn11 In commenting on this difference between the Senate and House bills, a document prepared by Senator Goldwater's staff and inserted at his request in the Congressional Record states that "the Senate bill extends protection of the right to sue expressly to union officers." 105 Cong. Rec. 16487 (1959). The Conference Committee adopted the House version,*fn12 and accordingly Section 101(a)(4) as finally enacted by Congress speaks only of the right of members, thus conforming to the terminology used in the other provisions of Section 101.

To be contrasted with the Title I rights are the provisions in Title IV relating to union elections. There, in dealing with candidacy for union office, the statute refers to the "right of any candidate", the right of "every bona fide candidate", and the obligations of a union to "any bona fide candidate".*fn13 Thus when Congress wanted to grant protection to a specific category of union members, appropriate language was used in the statute.

Several district court cases, although distinguishable on their facts from the case at bar, also support the view that plaintiff's status as business agent is not protected by the Act. Strauss v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 179 F. Supp. 297 (E. D. Pa. 1959), was a case involving a union employee who had been discharged from his position as business agent. In denying reinstatement, Judge Clary there stated:

". . . Title I deals with the unionmember relationship and in no way supports jurisdiction of a suit involving the employer (union)-employee (business agent) relationship which is the essence of the present suit. Such a case turns more properly on the common law of employment contracts, or employment 'status as a property right, matters which are outside the scope of Title I." 179 F. Supp. at 300.

In Jackson v. Martin Co ., 180 F. Supp. 475 (D. Md. 1960), where an elected union committeeman who had been removed from his position by the union's executive board sought to be restored to ...

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