United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
February 27, 2004.
DENISE A. GEORGE and TIMOTHY P. KINCAID
NORTHWEST AIRLINES, INC. and INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MACHINISTS AND AEROSPACE WORKERS, LOCAL 1776
The opinion of the court was delivered by: CYNTHIA RUFE, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the Court is Defendant Northwest Airlines, Inc.'s Motion to
Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint. For the reasons below, the Motion
is granted in part and denied in part.
Plaintiffs Denise A. George and Timothy P. Kincaid bring this hybrid
action against Defendants Northwest Airlines, Inc. ("Northwest") and
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Air
Transport District 143, Local 1776 ("the Union") pursuant to the Labor
Management Relations Act, ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185, and Railway
Labor Act, ("RLA"), 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq.*fn1 At all
relevant times Plaintiffs were Northwest customer service agents at the
Lehigh Valley International Airport and members of the Union.
On May 22, 2001, Northwest terminated Plaintiffs' employment because
Plaintiffs had discounted airfares and provided transportation credit
vouchers to friends, family members,
and acquaintances and had misled Northwest during its subsequent
investigation. That same day, Plaintiffs grieved their terminations under
the terms of a Collective Bargaining Agreement called the Gray Book
("CBA"). The most recent version of the CBA was executed by the Union on
February 25, 1999. The CBA contains a three-step grievance procedure
concluding with review by the System Board of Adjustment chaired by a
neutral arbitrator. The CBA further provides that any employee whom the
System Board of Adjustment finds was discharged without just cause will
be reinstated. Plaintiffs allege they were discharged without just cause
because their activities had been approved by their manager.
On May 23, 2001, Northwest provided Plaintiffs with a Step One hearing,
which resulted in denials of Plaintiffs' grievances. On May 30, 2001, the
Union appealed the grievances, asking for a Step Two hearing, which was
never held. On July 30, 2001, the Union sent Plaintiffs a Last Chance
Agreement, which would have permitted reinstatement provided that
Plaintiffs agreed to a disciplinary suspension without pay, admitted
their wrongdoing, and agreed to waive the right to seek redress for any
grievance, past or future, stemming from the agreement. Plaintiffs also
would have been placed on probationary status for 24 months. Plaintiffs
thereafter rejected this settlement proposal.*fn2
On August 16, 2001, the Union notified Northwest that it had appealed
the grievances to the System Board of Adjustment for a hearing and
decision. On January 16, 2002, Plaintiffs were again offered a settlement
similar to the Last Chance Agreement. The Union warned Plaintiffs that
the failure to execute the settlement agreements would result in the
withdrawal of their grievances. On January 28, 2002, Plaintiffs
again rejected the settlement offer. On February 7, 2002, the Union
notified Plaintiffs that, upon reviewing the facts underlying the
grievances and the terms of the CBA, and considering other factors, it
had decided to withdraw Plaintiffs' grievances from arbitration. The
instant litigation ensued.
Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint advances claims against both the Union
and Northwest. Plaintiffs allege that the Union violated its duty of fair
representation when it denied them a Step Two hearing in violation of
Article 16, Paragraph D of the CBA. Plaintiffs further allege that
Northwest "was engaged in a concerted scheme to destroy the Union by
setting up employees for discipline and then pressuring the [U]nion to
refuse to process the employees' grievances." Pls.' Am. Compl. ¶ 45.
In its Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, Northwest asserts that
Plaintiffs cannot advance their claims under the LMRA. Northwest further
contends that jurisdiction under the RLA is lacking because Plaintiffs
allege only a minor dispute that is subject to the mandatory and
exclusive jurisdiction of the System Board of Adjustment. Finally,
Northwest argues that this case does not fall within the limited
exception to the exclusive jurisdiction of the System Board set forth in
International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers v.
Northwest Airlines, Inc., 673 F.2d 700 (3d Cir. 1982).
By Order dated September 30, 2003, the Court directed the parties to
conduct jurisdictional discovery and scheduled an evidentiary hearing for
December 22, 2003. The parties thereafter jointly requested that the
Motion to Dismiss be decided on the present record. See Joint
Mot. to Modify Scheduling Order [Doc. No. 27].
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) may advance
either a facial or factual challenge to subject matter jurisdiction.
Fin. Software Sys. v. First Union Nat'l Bank, 84 F. Supp.2d 594,
596 (E.D. Pa. 1999) (citing Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. &
Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977)). Where, as here, a
motion to dismiss creates a factual issue regarding subject matter
jurisdiction, there is no presumption of truthfulness to the
jurisdictional allegations in the complaint. Mortensen, 549
F.2d at 891. In assessing a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the parties may submit,
and the court may consider, affidavits and other relevant evidence
outside the pleadings. Berardi v. Swanson Mem'l Lodge No. 48 of
Fraternal Order of Police, 920 F.2d 198, 200 (3d Cir. 1990). When a
defendant advances its attack on jurisdiction with supporting evidence,
the plaintiff has the burden of responding to the facts so stated.
Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891; Northwest Airlines, 673
F.2d at 711. In this case, Plaintiff George has submitted an affidavit in
which she avers that Northwest and the Union conspired to put together a
Last Chance Agreement that would subject senior employees to termination
without any recourse and that the purpose and effect of their collusive
effort was to undermine the Union.
A. Plaintiffs cannot advance LMRA claims against
In their Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs invoke jurisdiction under both
the LMRA and the RLA. The express language of the LMRA, however, makes it
inapplicable to Northwest because Northwest is covered by the RLA.
29 U.S.C. § 152(2) (providing that the Act shall not apply to "any
person subject to the Railway Labor Act"); 45 U.S.C. § 151 (providing
airlines and their employees are covered under the RLA).
The Supreme Court has ruled that the LMRA, as part of the National
Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"), does not apply to RLA employers:
The NLRA came into being against the background of
pre-existing comprehensive federal legislation
regulating railway labor disputes. Section 2(2)
and (3) of the NRLA, 29 U.S.C. § 152(2), (3)
expressly exempt from the Act's coverage employees
and employers subject to the Railway Labor Act.
And when the traditional railway labor
organizations act on behalf of employees subject
to the Railway Labor Act in a dispute with
carriers subject to the Railway Labor Act, the
organizations must be deemed, pro tanto,
exempt from the National Labor Relations Act.
Bd. of R.R. Trainmen v. Jacksonville Terminal Co.,
394 U.S. 369
, 376-77 (1969).
Accordingly, to the extent that claims against Northwest are pleaded
under the LMRA, they must be dismissed.
B. Whether Plaintiffs' claims are subject to RLA
The Court must next determine whether Plaintiffs' claims are subject to
RLA preemption. In order to decide this issue, the Court must first
address whether Plaintiffs' claims are "major" or "minor" disputes. The
distinction between major and minor disputes is significant. While
federal courts have broad powers to intervene in some major disputes,
minor disputes must be resolved through arbitration in a grievance
proceeding or before a System Board of Adjustment. See
45 U.S.C. § 184; Caparo v. United Parcel Service Co.,
993 F.2d 328, 331 (3d Cir. 1993); Assoc. of Flight Attendants, AFL-CIO v. US
Air, Inc., 960 F.2d 345, 347 (3d Cir. 1992) ("Congress placed great
emphasis on negotiation and voluntary settlement rather than judicial
resolution of labor disputes under the RLA.").
Major disputes relate to the formation or alteration of collective
agreements; minor disputes concern the application of a valid
agreement to a specific grievance. See Union Pacific Railroad Co. v.
Sheehan, 439 U.S. 89, 94 (1978). Minor disputes "relate either to
the meaning or proper application of a particular provision with
reference to a specific situation or to an omitted case."
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers v. US
Airways, Inc., ___ F.3d ___, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 1618, No. 03-4169
(3d Cir. Feb. 3, 2004) at * 14. The rationale for this dichotomy derives,
in part, from Congress's perception that the System Board possesses the
expertise and the administrative mechanisms to handle "minor" disputes
efficiently and fairly. Sheehan, 439 U.S. at 94.
Plaintiffs argue that the case is not preempted by the statutory
administrative appeal requirements of the RLA since there was "unlawful
collusion" between the Union and Northwest to deprive Plaintiffs of their
right to a full and fair hearing under the CBA. Pls.' Suppl. Mem. of Law
at 2 (noting that there are exceptions to the RLA preemption doctrine,
"even where the claims involved would ordinarily be of the type suited
for resolution by the statutorily mandated procedures."). This unlawful
collusion, Plaintiffs assert, excepts this matter from compulsory
arbitration. Plaintiffs note that although Northwest's actions in
targeting Plaintiffs for the "rate desk pricing" may have been subtle,
Northwest demonstrated an attempt to subvert and undermine the Union.
Plaintiffs assert that having two senior employees removed without a
fight demonstrated to other Union members that the Union was weakened and
that it was incapable of standing up for its members.
In Northwest Airlines, the Third Circuit ruled that,
notwithstanding that a matter may involve a "minor" dispute, a district
court may have jurisdiction if the employer had attempted to "destroy or
undermine the [union's] representation of [the] employees." 673 F.2d at
710. In an attempt to fit within the confines of the Northwest
Airlines exception, Plaintiffs specifically aver in their pleadings
that Northwest "was engaged in a concerted scheme to destroy the Union by
setting up employees for discipline and then pressuring the [U]nion to
refuse to process the employees' grievances." Pls.' Am. Compl, ¶ 45.
Plaintiffs further allege that Northwest was intent on "send[ing] a
message that the [U]nion was worthless, and that employees would be
better without it." Id. Moreover, Plaintiffs allege, by
carefully structuring false allegations against these two employees,
Northwest would "scare off or intimidate" the Union from defending those
employees and if the Union ultimately backed off from its defense of
members, then it "would serve as a `test case.'" Id. ¶ 47.
In opposition to the Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff George submitted an
affidavit in which she avers that (1) management had been aware of the
"rate desk pricing" practice; (2) Northwest attempted to structure the
allegations against long-term employees to intimidate the Union from
defending said employees; (3) the Union ultimately backed off in
defending Plaintiffs; and (4) the purpose of Northwest's actions was to
show that senior employees could be readily dispatched without a fight
and that the Union will just accept employees' dues. See Aff.
of Denise George, 12/16/02 at 1-2.
Viewing the facts in the light favorable to Plaintiffs and accepting as
true the claims in Plaintiff George's affidavit, the Court cannot
definitively rule that this dispute is one that cannot be heard in a
judicial forum. See Goclowski v. Central Transp. Co.,
571 F.2d 747, 759 (3d Cir. 1978) (employer can be joined where employer
acted in collusion with union). Northwest's alleged collusion with the
Union, if proved, may amount to undermining the CBA. Moreover, this appears
to be one of those cases where the jurisdictional issue and the merits of
the case are intertwined. The Third Circuit has cautioned that
where these issues are entwined, district courts should "demand less in
the way of jurisdictional proof than would be appropriate at a full trial
of the issue." Northwest Airlines, 673 F.2d at 711. Where there
are genuine issues of material fact, the district court "must permit the
case to proceed to a plenary trial on the contested issues so that it may
resolve the question of its jurisdiction even while hearing proofs that
are equally pertinent to the merits." Id. at 712;
Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 892. Based upon this directive, and with
no testimonial evidence presented to the Court with respect to the
jurisdictional issue due to the cancellation of the evidentiary hearing,
the Court is constrained to deny the Motion without prejudice.*fn3
For the foregoing reasons, the Court denies without prejudice
Northwest's Motion to Dismiss, except to the extent the Amended Complaint
purports to advance an LMRA claim against Northwest.
An appropriate Order follows.