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Brown v. Coilplus-Pennsylvania, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 21, 2017

DAVID BROWN, SR. Plaintiff,


          MCHUGH, J.

         This action is controlled by the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 141 - 191. Plaintiff was a union member protected by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) under which he could be discharged only for cause. He claims he was fired in violation of that agreement, and that his union denied him reasonable representation on appeal.

         Plaintiff's employer, Coilplus Pennsylvania, and his former union, the AFL-CIO, argue that his claims must be dismissed because: (1) Plaintiff has not adequately asserted a claim against the union, and (2) Plaintiff's complaint is barred by the LMRA's statute of limitations. Because I find merit in the first argument, and because as discussed below this is a “hybrid” action under the LMRA, Mr. Brown's claims must be dismissed.

         I. Standard of Review

         This case is governed by the well-established standards of Rule 12(b)(6), as amplified by Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009).

         II. Factual Background

         Coilplus Pennsylvania is a manufacturer of flat-rolled steel coils. Plaintiff worked at Coilplus's factory between August 2011 and February 2016. From 2013 to 2015, he worked as an Assistant Operator. In late 2015, though, he was ordered to fill a temporary Head Setter position. Plaintiff was trained as a Head Setter, but he disliked the job. Head Setters are required to “shim” little rings, and Plaintiff had difficulty with this task. He thus asked several times to be reassigned, and his supervisors assured him that he would be back to his old job “in no time.” Nonetheless, Plaintiff remained a Head Setter for thirty days, and was then told he would be required to remain in the position for another six-to-eight weeks.

         In January 2016, Plaintiff purportedly made multiple errors while shimming rings. He was given three write-ups for poor performance, after which he asked to take a medical leave of absence. Before he could amass the paperwork necessary to file for leave, he made another error and was placed on suspension pending termination. Approximately two weeks later, a union representative contacted Plaintiff and informed him that he could either collect unemployment or stay on suspension and petition for his job at a hearing. Plaintiff opted for a hearing, which was held on February 25, 2016.

         Plaintiff, his plant supervisor Michael Onody, and the union president Brian Martin attended the hearing. Onody asked whether they should wait for Plaintiff's union representative before beginning, but Martin told him that they could proceed. After a brief exchange between Onody and Martin about Brown's fitness to serve as a Head Setter, Brown alleges that “the meeting then became an exchange of inappropriate language between Onody and Martin.” Am. Compl. ¶ 43. Onody first accused Plaintiff of making mistakes on purpose. Id. ¶ 42. Then, “the two men were attacking each other on how they both handle their business. . . . The hearing ended abruptly without Martin affectively [sic] arguing Plaintiff's matter.” Id. ¶ 45. On March 4, 2016, Plaintiff was told he lost the hearing. His termination was made final on that date.

         III. The Hybrid Nature of Claims Under § 301 of the LMRA

         In both his Complaint and his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff raised two claims: one against Coilplus for violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the other against the union for breach of the duty of fair representation. Plaintiff did not affirmatively plead these claims under § 301 of the LMRA - indeed, he mentioned the statute only once, more than four months after beginning this suit, when facing a motion to dismiss his Amended Complaint.[1] But Plaintiff belatedly acknowledges he can only proceed under the LMRA.

         Although ordinarily the plaintiff in a civil action can bring parallel claims against separate defendants and proceed with them independently, that is not true in the field of labor management relations, where Congress has legislatively defined the scope of permissive claims. Because the CBA creates remedies for wrongful termination, a worker must ordinarily exhaust all grievance or arbitration remedies in the contract before bringing suit. See DelCostello v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 164 (1983). The LMRA, however, provides an exception to that rule where a worker claims not only that his employer violated the terms of the CBA, but also that his union then failed to reasonably represent him in asserting the contractual violation. Id. Under § 301, then, a worker can bring a “hybrid” suit composed of two “inextricably interdependent” claims. Id. That right comes with an important limitation: a worker is entitled to relief if, and only if, he can succeed on both claims. See id at 165 (1983) (“To prevail against either the company or the [u]nion, employee-plaintiffs must not only show that their discharge was contrary to the contract but must also carry the burden of demonstrating a breach of duty by the [u]nion.”)

         IV. Analysis

         A. Plaintiff's Claim ...

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