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Starcher v. Ameridrives International

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

September 27, 2019



          Susan Paradise Baxter District Judge


         A. Relevant Procedural History

         Plaintiff Steven Starcher brings this action pursuant to Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185 ("LMRA"), and the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2615(a) ("FMLA"), against Defendants Ameridrives International ("Ameridrives" or "the Company"); The United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, AFL-CIO-CLC ("International Union"); and The United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, AFL-CIO-CLC Local 3199-10 ("Local Union").

         The operative complaint [ECF No. 69, Amended Complaint] contains three counts: (I) a claim against both Defendants International Union and Local Union, under Section 301 of the LMRA, for breach of their respective duty of fair representation; (II) a claim against Defendant Ameridrives, under Section 301 of the LMRA, for breach of the terms of its collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") with the Defendant Unions; and (III) a claim against Defendant Ameridrives for terminating Plaintiff in violation of the FMLA. As relief for his claims, Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief and monetary damages.

         The parties have completed discovery and now pending before the Court are the following: Defendant Local Union's motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 76]; Defendant International Union's motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 77]; and Defendant Ameridrives' motion for partial summary judgment as to Count II, only [ECF No. 81]. Plaintiff has filed a brief in opposition to each of Defendants' motions [ECF Nos. 89, 94], Defendants have filed reply briefs [ECF Nos. 101, 103, 106], and Plaintiff has filed a sur-reply brief to Defendant Ameridrives' reply [ECF No. 111]. Also pending before the Court is Defendant Unions' joint motion to strike Plaintiffs "sham affidavit" [ECF No. 102], [1] to which Plaintiff has filed a response [ECF No. 109]. This matter is now ripe for consideration.

         B. Relevant Undisputed Material Facts [2]

         Plaintiff was a member of both the Local Union and the International Union throughout his employment with Ameridrives. (Id- at ¶ 2; ECF No. 80, at ¶ 3). The Defendant Unions and Ameridrives were parties to a Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") that governed the terms and conditions of employment for bargaining unit employees. (ECF No. 80, at ¶ 11; ECF No. 84-8). Under the CBA, Ameridrives had the right to suspend or discharge employees for proper cause. (ECF No. 80, at ¶ 12). The CBA also established a grievance and arbitration procedure for disputes concerning the interpretation and application of the CBA. (Id. at ¶ 13). In addition, during his employment with Ameridrives, Plaintiff was subject to Ameridrives' Work Rules/Code of Conduct, which, inter alia, (and as relevant here) made it a serious offense to remove company property without authorization. (ECF No. 83, at ¶¶ 8-9).

         Plaintiff began his employment with Defendant Ameridrives in March 2013 as a maintenance electrician at its facility in Erie, Pennsylvania. (ECF No. 83, at ¶ 1). Ameridrives' manufacturing process includes an electronic discharge machine ("EDM"), which produces scrap brass wire ("EDM scrap") that was collected in barrels inside the facility to be transported to a scrap facility. (ECF No. 80, at ¶ 47). When Plaintiff began his employment with Ameridrives, he replaced Ernie Robinson ("Robinson"), who had regularly engaged in the practice of transporting and selling the EDM wire scrap to a scrap dealer, and delivering the sale proceeds to the plant manager at the time, Ken Gebhardt ("Gebhardt"). (ECF No. 90, at ¶¶ 61-15)[3]When Gebhardt retired, his replacement, Steven Sanders ("Sanders") instructed Robinson to continue the practice. (Id. at ¶¶ 79-80).

         After Plaintiff was hired, Robinson told him about the EDM wire scrapping practice and demonstrated how it worked. (Id. at ¶¶ 83-86). Thereafter, at Sanders' direction, Plaintiff continued the practice of selling the EDM wire scrap to a scrap dealer. (ECF No. 80, at ¶¶ 48-49; ECF No. 83, at ¶ 43-44). A typical load of scrap consisted of approximately three or four barrels, weighing about 80 pounds each, which were loaded onto Plaintiffs personal vehicle with the Company's fork truck. (ECF No. 80, at ¶¶ 50-51). Plaintiff then transported and sold the scrap to Lincoln Recycling at its facility in Meadville, Pennsylvania, near Plaintiffs home. (Id. at ¶ 52; ECF No. 83, at ¶ 36). Plaintiff was not paid an hourly wage by the Company for recycling the EDM wire scrap. (ECF No. 80, at ¶ 57).

         In April 2016, Company supervisor Jon Muroski ("Muroski") loaded EDM wire scrap on his truck to take to a local scrapyard, but Sanders asked Muroski to remove the barrels of scrap from his truck so that Plaintiff could come in and transport the scrap to the scrapyard. (Id. at ¶ 66). Ameridrives' General Manager, Jack Paluh ("Paluh") later learned that Plaintiff was present at the Erie facility to take EDM wire scrap to be recycled while he was on FMLA leave. (ECF No. 104, at ¶ 22). This prompted Ameridrives to investigate the circumstances regarding the recycling of EDM wire scrap. (Id. at ¶ 23).

         On May 10, 2016, Robert Finzel ("Finzel"), Ameridrives' Operations Manager, and Amy Popoff ("Popoff), Ameridrives' Division HR Manager, spoke with Sanders regarding his understanding of the EDM wire scrap process. (ECF No. 83, at ¶ 32). During the meeting, Sanders stated that he was aware of the practice, but falsely stated that he didn't ask Plaintiff to do so, except on one occasion (ECF No. 90, at ¶¶ 96, 98). Sanders also claimed that he was "never given any check or money from [Plaintiff]... [and] has no idea where it might be going." (ECF No. 90, at ¶ 97; ECF No. 83, at ¶ 33).

         On the same date, Finzel and Popoff also had a meeting with Plaintiff about the EDM wire scrap process, at which Plaintiff refused union representation. (ECF No. 83, at ¶¶ 34-35). During this meeting, Plaintiff stated that he had been recycling the EDM wire scrap for "a couple of years, always at [Sanders'] request." [ECF No. 80-24]. Plaintiff explained that the sale proceeds were paid by check to Plaintiffs personal business, Crawford County Diversified Services, LLC ("CCDS"), because, according to Plaintiff, he could receive an extra $.10 per $1.00 for the scrap by having it paid to a business, rather than an individual. (ECF No. 80, at ¶ 55; ECF No. 83, at ¶¶ 37-38). According to Plaintiff, he then gave the proceeds, in cash, along with the receipt from the scrap yard, to Sanders. (ECF No. 83, at ¶ 41; ECF No. 90, at ¶ 111). Plaintiff estimated that the proceeds were $500 to $600 each time, and stated that he understood the money would be used for shop items. (ECF No. 90, at ¶¶ 111-112; ECF No. 80, at ¶ 69). Plaintiff claimed that the only personal benefit he received from the practice was occasional gas money from Sanders. (ECF No. 93, at ¶ 58; ECF No. 80-24).

         On May 13, 2016, Plaintiff produced Purchase History Registers from Lincoln Recycling ("Lincoln"), confirming that EDM wire scrap was recycled by CCDS. (Id. at ¶ 48). The register reflected sales by CCDS to Lincoln of a total of 6, 792 pounds of EDM wire scrap, on 23 different dates from November 5, 2013, through April 14, 2016, with payments totaling $10, 380.20. (ECF No. 80, at ¶ 73). No. records reflecting the receipt or disbursement of any funds from the sales were produced (Id. at ¶¶ 60-61), and no proceeds from the EDM wire scrapping process were ever recovered by the Company (ECF No. 83, at ¶ 52).

         On May 16, 2016, Finzel, Popoff, and Aimee Jones ("Jones"), the Company's Human Resources Generalist, met with Plaintiff and three Local Union officers who were members of the Local Union's grievance committee: Jim Fisher ("Fisher"), President; Jack King ("King"), Recording Secretary; and Billy Moore ("Moore"), Chief Griever. (ECF No. 83, at ¶ 50; ECF No. 93, at ¶¶ 6-8). Prior to the meeting, King informed Plaintiff that the union would be at the meeting to represent him and save his job. (ECF No. 81, at ¶ 51). However, it was common knowledge that Plaintiff and King were not friendly, and that King had previously reported Plaintiff to management for purported work violations on a number of occasions. (ECF No. 93, at¶¶ 128-137, 144).

         At the meeting of May 16, King reported that he had seen Plaintiff on a jitney one night and reported it to a supervisor, who made Plaintiff stop operating it immediately. (Id. at ¶ 159). King also questioned Plaintiffs assertion that he had been instructed to pick up EDM wire scrap, asking "why would they call you to come all the way to Erie?" (Id. at ¶ 160). In addition, Fisher asked why an hourly employee would be asked to take the EDM wire scrap to the recycling company and questioned if Plaintiff would be entitled to workers' compensation if he got hurt while coming in for the EDM wire scrap. (Id. at ¶¶ 161-162). Fisher also mentioned that, though he had heard about a shop fund, and thought there was one, he didn't have first-hand knowledge of a fund's existence. (ECF No. 80, at ¶ 92). At some point, Finzel reached the conclusion that Sanders and Plaintiff had colluded with respect to the EDM wire scrap, (Id. at ¶ 90). The Company contacted the local police department to initiate a criminal investigation into the EDM wire scrapping process. (Id. at ¶ 93).

         The Company ultimately terminated Plaintiffs employment as of May 19, 2016, by letter from Jones, dated May 20, 2016 [ECF No. 80-30]. The letter did not specify a reason for the termination. (Id.). Sanders was also fired as of the same day, in the same manner. [ECF No. 80-31]. On May 24, 2016, the Local Union filed a grievance noting the reason for Plaintiffs termination as'"code of business conduct violation (theft), " and challenging the action as an "unjust termination." [ECF No. 80-32].

         On May 31, 2016, International Union Staff Representative Edward Kemick ("Kemick") met with Plaintiff, King, Fisher, and Moore to discuss the grievance. (ECF No. 80, at ¶¶ 101). As Staff Representative, Kemick was responsible for handling the grievance and was the only person empowered to determine whether to arbitrate the grievance. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-16). Though Kemick had not met Plaintiff previously, he learned about the lack of goodwill between Plaintiff and King in connection with his review of the grievance, but did not know the reason(s) why they were not friendly. (ECF No. 93, at ¶¶ 141-42). As the recording secretary, King was responsible for taking notes on behalf of the Local ...

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