779 F.Supp. 897 (E.D.Mich. 1991), 89-71621, Linton v. United Parcel Service

Docket Nº:89-71621.
Citation:779 F.Supp. 897
Party Name:Leonard K. LINTON, Plaintiff, v. UNITED PARCEL SERVICE and International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen & Helpers of America, Local 243, Defendants.
Case Date:December 20, 1991
Court:United States District Courts, 6th Circuit
 
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Page 897

779 F.Supp. 897 (E.D.Mich. 1991)

Leonard K. LINTON, Plaintiff,

v.

UNITED PARCEL SERVICE and International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen & Helpers of America, Local 243, Defendants.

No. 89-71621.

United States District Court, D. Michigan

Dec. 20, 1991

Page 898

Barbara Harvey, Detroit, Mich., for Leonard K. Linton.

George Geller, Farmington Hills, Mich., for Intern. Broth. of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen & Helpers of America, Local 243.

Mark Nelson, Detroit, Mich., for United Parcel Service.

OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

ROSEN, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

This action is before the Court on remand from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Defendant Teamsters Local 243 ("Union") filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on August 30, 1991 in which Defendant United Parcel Service ("UPS") joined. Defendants allege that, as a matter of law, the Union did not breach its duty of fair representation in its handling of Plaintiff Leonard Linton's ("Plaintiff") grievance. On September 26, 1991, Plaintiff filed a response to Defendants' motion. Plaintiff counters that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the Union fulfilled its duty of fair representation.

FACTS

On April 25, 1989, Plaintiff initiated this hybrid § 301/breach of duty of fair representation action ("301 action") pursuant to § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185(a), alleging that his discharge from Defendant UPS had been without cause and that the Union had breached its duty of fair representation in failing adequately to advance his claim through the grievance procedure.

Both parties to this action were subject at all relevant times to the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, the National Master United Parcel Service Agreement ("NMUPSA"). Article 17 of that agreement provides that an employee shall be discharged only for just cause. Dishonesty is listed as one of several factors

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clearly considered to be just cause for termination.

In August 1979, Plaintiff first applied for employment with UPS. At this time, he completed an employment application which contained the following question: "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" Linton responded to this inquiry in the negative. The last page of the application read, in pertinent part:

In signing this application for employment, I understand that misrepresentation or omission of facts is cause for cancellation of this application or separation from the Company's service if I am employed. I agree that the Company shall not be liable in any respect if my employment is terminated because of the falsity of statements, answers or omissions made by me on this application.

Plaintiff was hired as a part-time loader-unloader in 1979.

He worked for UPS in that capacity until September 1988 when he applied for the position of "next-day special air driver." In connection with his application for this new position, Plaintiff was asked to fill out another employment application which contained the same question regarding a criminal history. Plaintiff's response was again in the negative. The application also contained a statement, virtually identical to that noted above, explaining that misrepresentation or omission of facts would be cause for discharge.

After Plaintiff completed this application, UPS ran a routine check on him. It found that on May 4, 1976 he had been convicted of a crime, "Loitering Where Marijuana is Kept." This was prior to the completion of both UPS applications.

Upon receiving the results of the criminal history check, UPS confronted Plaintiff with the information and asked him to explain the discrepancy between his employment applications and the criminal history check. Dissatisfied with his explanation, UPS terminated his employment on October 17, 1988. In a letter to Plaintiff dated October 17, 1988, UPS stated that his employment with UPS was being terminated because "the employment applications submitted to UPS on August 7, 1979 and on September 20, 1988 were falsified."

Plaintiff filed a grievance with the Union protesting his discharge. Union vice president and business agent Leon Cooper ("Cooper") processed Plaintiff's grievance on behalf of the Union. A meeting was held between Cooper, Plaintiff, and Company representative Frank Alphonso ("Alphonso") to discuss the circumstances surrounding Plaintiff's conviction and request for reinstatement. Alphonso refused to accept Cooper's argument in favor of Plaintiff's reinstatement. In accordance with the applicable collective bargaining agreement procedures, Cooper arranged a local hearing with Plaintiff, Company, and Union representatives to seek formal resolution of Plaintiff's grievance. Prior to that hearing, Cooper allegedly met with Plaintiff several times, reviewed the police report regarding Plaintiff's conviction, and attempted to contact the individual arrested with the Plaintiff in 1976.

At the local hearing, the Company rejected Cooper's efforts to have Plaintiff reinstated. Cooper then proposed that the Company allow Plaintiff to "voluntarily resign for personal reasons" in lieu of a discharge. The Company accepted this proposal. Plaintiff acquiesced at first but changed his mind after consulting with Union steward Bob Naslonic who, it seems, suggested that he reject the offer and take the grievance to the next step of the grievance procedure, a hearing before the state committee. 1

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By letter dated October 28, 1988, Plaintiff informed Cooper that he wished to appeal his case. In response, Cooper informed Plaintiff by letter dated November 3, 1988 that the decision reached at the local hearing was final and binding. A second letter to Plaintiff dated November 10, 1988 reiterated this statement and further apprised Plaintiff that Cooper and the Union "consider your grievance dated above as denied and closed." The Plaintiff then instituted the instant action.

In its June 19, 1990 Memorandum Opinion and Order, 1990 WL 282592, the Court, per Judge Suhrheinrich, granted the Defendants' motions for summary judgment. In that Opinion and Order, the Court addressed only the issue of whether UPS had "just cause" to terminate the Plaintiff under the collective bargaining agreement when it was discovered that Plaintiff had submitted false information on his employment application. The District Court relied on the standard contained in the employment application, namely, whether the applicant misrepresented himself or omitted facts. It found, as a matter of law, that the Company had just cause to terminate the Plaintiff: "For purposes of the instant case then, Linton's responses in the employment application forms were false and the Company therefore had 'just cause' for terminating him since the terms of the employment application form unequivocally stated that misrepresentation or omission of fact constituted grounds for termination."

The Sixth Circuit reversed this decision on appeal in Linton v. UPS, No. 90-1915 (6th Cir. June 19, 1991) [933 F.2d 1008 (table) ]. That court held that the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, not the employment contract, control the relationship between an employee and employer. 2 Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, an employee may be terminated only for just cause. 3 Although dishonesty constitutes just cause for termination, the Court of Appeals held that the lower court failed to find that Plaintiff was dishonest, i.e., that he had the intent to deceive. Whether the Plaintiff had the intent to deceive, the court said, is a question of fact for the trier of fact to decide. 4 If the Plaintiff lacked the intent to deceive, then whether innocently providing false information on the application constituted just cause, said the court, is a mixed question of law and fact inappropriate for determination on summary judgment: "Providing false information on the application may also be a basis for finding just cause for termination. However, it is not just cause as a matter of law. The collective bargaining agreement provides a method of determining just cause, which is a mixed question of law and fact." Linton, No. 90-1915, slip op. at 4.

As to whether the Union breached its duty of fair representation, the Sixth Circuit said only the following:

The District Court did not rule on the question of whether plaintiff was denied

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that process [just cause dismissal] by reason of the union's alleged breach of the duty of fair representation. Although the union urges us to rule on its motion for summary judgment that there was no such breach, we decline to do so in the first instance. The issues are not properly decided on summary judgment.

Linton, No. 90-1915, slip op. at 4 (emphasis added).

The use of "issues" in the last sentence is rather cryptic. Plaintiff, of course, urges that the Court of Appeals intended this disapproval of summary judgment to include "issues" relating to the Union's alleged breach of its duty as well as the claims against the employer. The Union, on the other hand, focuses on the previous sentence and argues that the phrasing of the last sentence was unintentionally broad and encompassing. In this Court's view, both interpretations have merit.

The Court of Appeals first declined to rule on the Union's motion for summary judgment because the duty of fair representation issue had not been addressed by the lower court, saying it does not wish to do so "in the first instance." However, the court then clearly stated that "[t]he issues are not properly decided on summary judgment." If the Court accepts the Plaintiff's interpretation that "the issues" includes those issues relating to the duty...

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