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Smokowicz v. Graphic Packaging International, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 5, 2018



          Slomsky, J.


         This case involves two claims. Plaintiff Michael D. Smokowicz brings the first claim against his former employer, Graphic Packaging International, Inc., for breach of a Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) in violation of § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 185.[1] Plaintiff brings the second claim against his union, United Steel, Paper, Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union (USW) AFL-CIO, CLC Local Union #807 (“Union”), for failing to fulfill its duty of providing fair representation for a member. This action is inferred from the Union's exclusive authority under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 159(a).[2]

         In Count I, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Graphic Packaging breached the CBA by terminating his employment and by not allowing him to grieve his termination. In Count II, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Union breached its duty of fair representation by refusing to grieve or arbitrate his termination.[3] Together, these two claims are referred to as a “hybrid § 301/fair representation claim” because a plaintiff must establish both claims before he is entitled to relief. See DelCostello v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 164-65 (1983).

         Defendants deny the allegations and have moved for summary judgment. (Doc. Nos. 51, 52.) Plaintiff has filed Responses in Opposition (Doc. Nos. 59, 60), and Defendants have filed Replies (Doc. Nos. 61, 62). For reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Motions for Summary Judgment.[4]


         A. Factual Background[5]

         From 1993 to May 11, 2016, Graphic Packaging employed Plaintiff Michael D. Smokowicz at its Valley Forge, Pennsylvania plant. (Doc. No. 52-1 ¶ 1.) Throughout his employment, Plaintiff was a member of the Union. (Doc. No. 51-7 ¶ 4.) As a member of the Union, Plaintiff was subject to a CBA. (Doc. No. 52-1 ¶ 3.) The CBA provides in relevant part:

Section 1 [Graphic Packaging] reserves the full right to discharge, transfer, suspend, promote, demote or relieve employees from duties because of lack of work or other justifiable reasons. Progressive discipline is intended to be corrective in nature and not punitive. However, it is understood and agreed that the above are subject to the grievance procedure herein.
Section 2 If an employee is discharged, the employee or the Union shall, upon request, receive in writing, full and complete reasons therefore, and the steward shall be notified. If the employee involved desires to file a grievance, it must be submitted within five (5) days from the time of discharge. . . .

(Doc. No. 52-3 at 18-19, art. XVII.)

         On March 5, 2013, Graphic Packaging fired Plaintiff after he pushed a coating dolly at a co-worker in violation of its Anti-Harassment and Violence in the Workplace policies. (Doc. No. 52-1 ¶ 4.) Plaintiff testified that he pushed the dolly because his co-worker provoked him. (Doc. No. 52-3 at 120:9-18.) Following his termination, the Union negotiated a Last Chance Agreement (“LCA”) on Plaintiff's behalf that restored him to his former position without back pay and required him to attend a counseling program. (Doc. No. 52-1 ¶ 7; Doc. No. 51-3 at 2.)

         The LCA provides that Plaintiff “will be terminated for his first failure to meet the any of terms [sic] or conditions outlined below” and that “[t]his agreement and any subsequent termination resulting from it will be non-grievable.” (Doc. No. 51-3 at 2.) It further states:

Upon reinstatement, and for the remainder of his employment at the Valley Forge Plant, [Plaintiff] must perform all aspects of his job satisfactorily and meet all established standards of conduct. Unsatisfactory job performance includes but is not limited to non-compliance with company plant rules, policies or procedures, lack of productivity, unsafe acts, insubordination, negligent reckless behavior, misconduct, etc.
. . . This Last Chance Agreement is non-precedent setting, will not be referenced in future discussions between the Parties, and is non-grievable.

(Id. (emphasis in original).) On March 22, 2013, the LCA was signed by Plaintiff, the Union's President, the Plant Manager, and the Human Resources Manager. (Id.) Plaintiff and the Union were bound by the LCA's terms. (Doc. No. 51-7 ¶ 13.)

         In April 2016, Graphic Packaging was notified that a pallet of Hershey Reese's Peanut Butter King Size Cups had been mislabeled with the incorrect batch tag as eight-ounce Kraft Cream Cheese. (Doc. No. 51-6 at 2.) The incorrect batch tag was generated by a computer that Plaintiff had signed on to. (Doc. No. 51-2 at 138:20-24, 145:2-5.) In his deposition, Plaintiff agreed that the mislabeling was a serious offense that created a ...

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