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Morris v. United Steel Workers of America local 4889

March 16, 2010

JAMES MORRIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STEEL WORKERS OF AMERICA LOCAL 4889, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

II. BACKGROUND. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A. Plaintiff's Employment. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

B. Incident Leading to Morris' Termination . . . . . .

C. Plaintiff's Termination and Appeal . . . . . . . . .

III. LEGAL STANDARD. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

IV. ANALYSIS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A. Counts I & II - LMRA Claims Against Both USS and the Union. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . -9-

1. Claim Against the Union - breach of duty of fair representation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . -10-

2. Claim Against USS - Breach of the BLA. . . . . -18-B. Count III - Claims of Racial Discrimination & Retaliation Under § 1981. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . -19-

1. Legal Standard. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . -19-

2. Claims of Discrimination against USS. . . . . . -20-a. Plaintiff's Termination. . . . . . . . . . -20-b. Plaintiff's Discipline in 2006. . . . . . .-25-c. Plaintiff's Overtime Assignment. . . . . . -27-3. Claim of Retaliation against USS. . . . . . . . -31-4. Claim of Discrimination against the Union. . . .-34-

V. CONCLUSION. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . -39-

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff James Morris ("Plaintiff") initiated this action against Defendants United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, Local 4889*fn1 ("Union") and U.S. Steel Corp. ("USS"), (collectively "Defendants"), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("Section 1981" or "§ 1981") and the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185.

Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that his former employer, USS, violated a collective bargaining agreement by forcing Plaintiff to work overtime and by treating similarly situated black employees more favorably than Plaintiff (Count I). Plaintiff also alleges that the Union breached its duty of fair representation by refusing to file a grievance on his behalf, among other claims (Count II). Finally, Plaintiff brings a § 1981 claim against both Defendants, alleging that their breaches of duty were racially motivated (Count III).

Both Defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motions for summary judgment will be granted.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff Employment

Plaintiff is a white male and was an employee of USS in the Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania facility prior to his termination on January 25, 2008. (USS Statement of Facts ("SOF") at ¶ 1.) Morris was a member of a collective bargaining unit, the Union, and his employment terms were covered by the Basic Labor Agreement ("BLA") between USS and the Union. (Complaint at ¶ 30.) Plaintiff was hired in 1998 to perform general labor and maintenance work. By 2006, Plaintiff held the position of Operating Technician and worked as an Assistant Operator on the Galvanizing Line. (Plaintiff Dep. at 26-27.) The Galvanizing Line is part of the flat rolled steel finishing process, which primarily involves coating steel strips with zinc according to customer specifications. (USS SOF at ¶ 6.)

Plaintiff worked as an "Op Tech," who performed both operations and maintenance work. Op Techs received a higher pay under the BLA and also perform maintenance work during downturns. Maintenance downturns occur for eight to sixteen hours every other week, during which operations on the Galvanizing Line would stop for machinery to be repaired on the Line.*fn2 However, employees who were not scheduled to work during a downturn could volunteer to work overtime and perform maintenance by signing a sheet posted in the department.

B. Incident Leading to Plaintiff's Termination

During the week of February 25, 2007, Plaintiff was scheduled to work as an Assistant Operator on the "C" Crew. Defendants claim that the posted schedule indicated that the Assistant Operators on the crews assigned to the shift before and after the "D" Crew were to cover an Assistant Operator vacancy on the "D" Crew by each working four hours of overtime. (USS SOF at ¶ 13; USS Ex. 5, 2/25/07 Work Schedule.) On March 1, 2007, Plaintiff' "C" Crew was assigned to the first turn (12:00 a.m. -8:00 a.m.), and the "D' Crew was assigned the second turn (8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.). Defendant USS contends that, on this day, Plaintiff was scheduled to work from 12:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m to cover for the Assistant Operator vacancy on the second turn. (USS Exhibit 5, 2/25/07 Work Schedule.) However, Plaintiff argues that he was only scheduled to work his regular production shift and that the maintenance time was voluntary. (Pl.'s SOF at ¶ 15.) Plaintiff also testified that employees were scheduled to perform operations work during maintenance downturns were required to work their scheduled shift. (Plaintiff Dep. at 242:18-24-243:1-11.)

At approximately 8:30 a.m. on March 1, 2007, Maintenance Manager Paul Denis approached Plaintiff with an assignment sheet directing Plaintiff to work on refurbishing lox valves for the remaining four hours, until 12:00 p.m. (USS SOF at ¶ 18.) Plaintiff told Mr. Denis that he did not sign the sheet volunteering to work maintenance overtime that day. (Id. at ¶ 20.) At this point, Defendant USS claims that Mr. Denis told Plaintiff he was scheduled to work for the first half of the second term and Plaintiff folded up the assignment sheet and put it in Mr. Denis' pocket. Mr. Denis claims to have warned Plaintiff not to be insubordinate. (Id. at ¶ 22.) USS claims that Mr. Denis later recognized Plaintiff was not working on the repair work and found him in the locker room where Mr. Denis instructed Plaintiff to return to his job. Mr. Denis claims to have informed Plaintiff that he intended to cite Plaintiff for insubordination if he did not return to work. Plaintiff then left the plant without permission and did not perform the repair work. (Id. at ¶ 26.)

Plaintiff contends he told Mr. Denis that the assignment could "easily take days" and he wanted "the same privileges as everybody else[.]" (Pl.'s SOF at ¶ 21.) Plaintiff claims that no testimony exists stating he was warned not be insubordinate and he questioned "why he was being singled out for this discipline when it was in direct violation of the company's policies[.]" (Id. at ¶ 26.)

C. Plaintiff's Termination and Appeal

Mr. Denis later sent an email to the Plant Manager, the Process Coordinator and the Employee Services Staff Supervisor detailing the events that transpired with Plaintiff on March 1, 2007. On March 2, 2007, Facility Manager, John Jaloski, issued two five-day suspensions to Plaintiff for insubordination and leaving the plant without permission from the previous day. The Plant's Process Coordinator, Mark Cebrick, approved the discipline and provided the notices to the USWA Grievance Committee Chairperson, Kathy Bara, on March 2, 2007. (USS SOF at ¶ 28.) Plaintiff waived his rights to a preliminary hearing as provided under the BLA § 9b(3). (Pl.'s SOF at ¶ 30.) On March 7, 2007, the Employee Staff Supervisor sent Plaintiff a letter stating that the suspensions had been converted to discharge. The Union subsequently filed timely grievances on Plaintiff's behalf challenging the suspensions and discharges as violating the BLA's Article Five Sections I and J (USS SOF at ¶¶ 32, 33, 35) and pursued the grievances through the three steps of the grievance procedure. (Union's SOF at ¶ 29.) Plaintiff's grievances were denied by USS at Steps 2 and 3 of the grievance procedure. (Id. at ¶¶ 33, 35.) The Union advised USS of its disagreement with the Company's denial of the grievances.

The Union appealed Plaintiff' case to binding arbitration under the BLA. After a November 8, 2007 hearing, the arbitrator decided in favor of USS and denied Plaintiff's grievances. (Union Ex. Q, Arb. Award, dated 1/24/08.) During the period between USS's initial decision to discipline Plaintiff and the binding arbitration decision upholding the discharge, Plaintiff was permitted to continue working under the BLA. After the arbitration award was announced, Plaintiff' termination became final. Plaintiff contends that he lost the arbitration as a result of the Union's unsatisfactory representation. (Pl.'s SOF at ¶ 38.)

USS alleges that Plaintiff had a history of insubordinate behavior while employed at USS. USS claims that, in September 3, 2006, Plaintiff was scheduled to work on the first and second turns at the plant. However, Plaintiff told his manager that he could not cover the vacancy on the second turn and, without permission, left the plant. Later, Mr. Cebrick issued Plaintiff two five-day suspensions for insubordination and for leaving the plant without permission. The Union filed grievances challenging the discipline. Following negotiations between USS and the Union, the discipline was subsequently rescinded and Plaintiff lost no pay or work time. (Union Ex. G, Letter to Plaintiff, dated 9/25/06.)

Plaintiff also filed a grievance on February 22, 2007, complaining of excessive overtime and protesting the scheduling of mandatory overtime. (Union Ex. I, 2/22/07 Grievance.)

Plaintiff also alleges he made other race-based complaints about overtime scheduling at the plant. Plaintiff felt that black employees where not disciplined for calling off work or failing to work voluntary overtime. Plaintiff admits that Mr. Cebrick received the February 22 grievances on March 6, 2007, or four days after the discipline for the March 1, 2007, incident had already been issued. (Pl.'s SOF, doc. no. 30, at ¶ 19.) The grievance regarding overtime was presented to the Company on March 6, 2007, and was immediately denied by the company. (Union SOF at ¶ 19.)

III. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is proper when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). A fact is "material" if its existence or non-existence would affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of fact is "genuine" when there is sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find in favor of the non-moving party regarding the existence of that fact. Id. at 248-49. "In considering the evidence, the court should draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party." El v. Se. Pa. Transp. Auth., 479 F.3d 232, 238 (3d Cir. 2007).

"Although the initial burden is on the summary judgment movant to show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, 'the burden on the moving party may be discharged by showing-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case' when the nonmoving party bears the ultimate burden of proof." Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 140 (quoting Singletary v. Pa. Dept. of Corrections, 266 F.3d 186, 192 n.2 (3d Cir. 2001)). Once the moving party has thus discharged its burden, the nonmoving party "may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading; rather, its response must-by affidavits or as otherwise provided in [Rule 56]-set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2).

IV. ANALYSIS

A. Counts I & II - LMRA

Claims against both USS and the Union Claims under Section 301 of the LMRA fall into two general categories: pure claims and hybrid claims. Pure claims are cases brought by a union against an employer. Serv. Employee Int'l Union Local 36 v. City Cleaning Co., 982 F.2d 89, 94, n.2 (3d Cir. 1992). Hybrid claims are brought by an employee alleging that the employer breached the CBA and that the employee's union violated its duty to fairly represent the employee. Id. (emphasis in original); see also Felice v. Sever, 985 F.2d 1221, 1226 (3d Cir. 1993) (in a ยง 301 hybrid action, "the plaintiff will have to prove that the employer breached the collective bargaining agreement in ...


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