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Doyle v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority

January 13, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jones, J.


I. Introduction

The above-captioned matter involves a labor dispute between James J. Doyle and his employer, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (hereinafter "SEPTA").*fn1 James Doyle's wife, Joan E. Doyle, has joined in this action. Specifically, Plaintiffs are suing on the basis that Defendant failed to immediately reinstate Mr. Doyle's employment (namely, his position as Conductor) in accordance with an arbitration Award issued on March 15, 2008. Accordingly, they are seeking compensatory and consequential damages for the period between March 15, 2008 and Mr. Doyle's reinstatement on September 7, 2008.*fn2 Said damages include: reimbursement for lost wages, medical insurance benefits and retirement benefits; railroad credit; seniority; and, vacation time.

A settlement conference was scheduled to occur before Magistrate Judge Lynne A. Sitarski on July 22, 2009, after the completion of discovery. However, said conference was canceled upon notification by the parties that they would be filing summary judgment motions and that a settlement conference would be futile. Thereafter, Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment on the basis of the arbitrators' decision and Defendant has filed a cross-motion on the basis of the same. For the reasons which follow, Plaintiffs' motion will be denied and Defendant's Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

Plaintiffs initially filed their Complaint on September 5, 2008. Defendant filed an Answer on April 22, 2009, denying that they were required to reinstate Mr. Doyle to position of Conductor immediately in March of 2008.*fn3 (Answer ¶14.) Defendant averred that up until September 7, 2008, Defendant refused to reinstate Mr. Doyle because he failed to comply with the requisites for reinstatement, as set forth in the Public Law Board's Award. Defendant further averred that Mr. Doyle's ultimate reinstatement occurred pursuant to an August 1, 2008 grievance settlement agreement that was entered into between SEPTA and the union. (Answer ¶15.) Accordingly, Defendant contends in pertinent part that the August 1, 2008 agreement constitutes a waiver of any claims Mr. Doyle might have against SEPTA for an alleged failure to comply with the Public Law Board's Award.

II. Factual Background*fn4*fn5

SEPTA employed Mr. Doyle as a Railroad Conductor on its Regional Rail Division until his termination on July 14, 2006. (Compl. ¶¶ 9-10.) At all times relevant to this dispute, a collective bargaining agreement between SEPTA and UTU, Local 61 governed the terms and conditions of Mr. Doyle's employment. (Compl. Ex. A, Sec. 101(a).) The SEPTA-UTU Agreement specifies that Local 61 is the "exclusive bargaining representative of all Passenger Conductors and Assistant Conductors in their jurisdiction working on SEPTA's Railroad Division." (Compl. Ex. A, Sec. 101(b).) The terms of the SEPTA-UTU Agreement expressly incorporate what are referred to as Operating Rules, which refer to the NORAC Operating Rules (Ninth Edition Effective April 6, 2008, published by Northeast Operating Rules Advisory Committee). (Compl. Ex. A, Sec. 510( c); see also Def.'s Cross Mot. Summ. J., Ex. C; Doyle Dep.10:18-25, 11:1-25, 12:1-9.) SEPTA applies the NORAC Operating Rules through a document entitled Timetable No. 4 and specifically through the System Special Instructions contained therein. (Spratt Dep. 22:1-24, 23:1-24, 24:1-22, 47:7-21; see also Def.'s Cross Mot. Summ. J., Ex. E; Vazquez Dep. 108:1-25, 109:1-24.) In 2005, Mr. Doyle began to receive warnings from SEPTA for violations of its fare remittance rules. (Doyle Dep. 17:6-14.)*fn6 After numerous warnings regarding violations of these rules, SEPTA discharged Mr. Doyle on July 14, 2006. (Compl. ¶ 10; see also Doyle Dep. 21:17-19.)

Pursuant to the grievance procedures set forth in the Agreement, UTU Local 61 filed a grievance on Mr. Doyle's behalf over his discharge. (Doyle Dep. 28:15-25, 29:1-5.) Subsequent to the filing of the grievance, in December 2006, Mr. Doyle participated in a meeting with SEPTA management and UTU Local 61, in which SEPTA offered Mr. Doyle a settlement consisting of reinstatement, a month's salary, a fifth and final warning, and a requirement to attend psychiatric counseling. (Doyle Dep. 31:2-25, 32:16-25, 33:1-25.) Mr. Doyle declined to accept the settlement offer from SEPTA. (Doyle Dep. 33:24-25.) A second step grievance hearing was subsequently held, at which Local 61 represented Mr. Doyle. (Doyle Dep. 36:18-25.) The SEPTA Hearing Officer denied Mr. Doyle's grievance. (Doyle Dep. 37:5-25, 38:1-15.) The Union consequently appealed SEPTA's second step denial of Mr. Doyle's grievance to the Public Law Board ("PLB"). (Doyle Dep. 38:18-21; see also Compl. ¶ 12.) The Public Law Board ("PLB") is an arbitration mechanism which, under the RLA, may be established as an alternative to the statutory arbitration mechanism implemented through the National Railroad Adjustment Board ("NRAB"). See 45 U.S.C. § 153, First.

Ralph Vazquez, as General Chairman of Local 61, presented Mr. Doyle's case for reinstatement to the PLB. (Doyle Dep. 40:21-25, 41:1-14.) Mr. Doyle also testified at the PLB hearing, reading from a prepared statement that he had reviewed with the Union prior to the hearing. (Doyle Dep. 42:17-25, 43:1-7.) The executive board of the PLB held an executive session, during which SEPTA agreed to Mr. Doyle's reinstatement. (Sanderson Dep. 14:6-24, 15:1-24, 16:1-24, 17:1-24, 18:1-9.)

On March 15, 2008, the PLB issued its Award, which provided as follows:

Claimant Doyle is to be reinstated immediately without back pay, but with all seniority intact. Carrier should attempt to expedite any administrative processes and refresher training associated with his reinstatement. The claim of the Union is sustained to this extent.

N.B. This Board will retain jurisdiction over any future discipline assessed against this Claimant for like violations. (Def.'s Cross Mot. Summ. J., Ex. H.) After receipt of his copy of the Award, Mr. Doyle discussed the award with Ralph Vazquez on numerous occasions. (Doyle Dep. 62:22-25, 63:1-10, 64:15-25, 65:1-25, 66:1-22.) On May 19, 2008, Mr. Doyle wrote to SEPTA General Manager Joe Casey, informing Mr. Casey that he asked UTU General Chairman Ralph Vazquez ". . . to seek out clarification from the arbitrator on what immediate reinstatement meant." Def.'s Cross Mot. Summ. J., Ex. F; see also Doyle Dep. 53:20-25, 54:7-25.)*fn7 Based on Mr. Vazquez's subsequent conversations with Mr. Giannino*fn8 - the neutral arbitrator who heard Mr. Doyle's case - Mr. Vazquez believed that if he pursued a clarification of the award on behalf of Mr. Doyle, Mr. Giannino would tell them that Mr. Doyle had to be fully qualified on every line before he could return to work as a conductor. (Vazquez Dep. 56:8-25.)*fn9 Mr. Doyle understood that he must requalify on the physical characteristics on all runs in which he was previously qualified at the time he was terminated, in order to be reinstated as a conductor. (Doyle Dep. 68:3-13, 69:8-14.) In the meantime, Mr. Doyle underwent a physical examination, received his rule books, and attended rules classes, all of which were scheduled by SEPTA. (Doyle Dep. 44:21-25, 45:1-11, 82:1-10.) A Return-To-Work Certification was issued for Mr. Doyle on May 14, 2008. (Spratt Dep. 71:22-24, 72:1-18.)

As a result of a telephone call from Mr. Doyle, Mr. Casey instructed Sue Sanderson, SEPTA Labor Relations Manager, to permit Mr. Doyle to come back as an assistant conductor at the next general job picking, pending his recertification as a conductor. (Sanderson Dep. 35:13-19; see also Doyle Dep. 72:9-15; Compl. Ex. A, Sec. 503.)*fn10 The next picking at which Mr. Doyle could submit a bid for a run of his choosing (based on seniority) was not scheduled until August of 2008. (Doyle Dep. 70:15-17.) Thereafter, on August 1, 2008, the Union and SEPTA entered into an agreement with regard to Mr. Doyle's reinstatement. (Vazquez Dep. 94:23-25, 95:1-25, 96:1-3, 97:13-24; see also Def.'s Cross Mot. Summ. J., Ex. J.)*fn11 The Agreement provided in pertinent part:

1. As an accommodation, pending his re-qualification as a Conductor, Mr. Doyle will be permitted to pick an Assistant Conductor run at the next scheduled picking, which is currently scheduled to begin ...

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