Garity v. APWU National Labor Organization, 070516 FED9, 13-15195

Docket Nº:13-15195
Opinion Judge:Bybee Judge
Party Name:Rosemary Garity, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. APWU National Labor Organization, Defendant-Appellee.
Attorney:Matthew O'Brien (argued) and Justin Beck (argued), Certified Law Students, Pepperdine University School of Law, Malibu, California; Jeremy B. Rosen, Horvitz & Levy LLP, Encino, California; for Plaintiff-Appellant. Michael R. Hall (argued) and Matthew A. Walker; Hall, Jaffe & Clayton; Las Vegas, N...
Judge Panel:Before: Jerome Farris, Jay S. Bybee, and N. Randy Smith, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:July 05, 2016
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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Rosemary Garity, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

APWU National Labor Organization, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 13-15195

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

July 5, 2016

Argued and Submitted November 3, 2015 Pasadena, California

Appeal from the United States District Court No. 2:11-cv-01109-PMP-CWH for the District of Nevada Philip M. Pro, Senior District Judge, Presiding

COUNSEL

Matthew O'Brien (argued) and Justin Beck (argued), Certified Law Students, Pepperdine University School of Law, Malibu, California; Jeremy B. Rosen, Horvitz & Levy LLP, Encino, California; for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Michael R. Hall (argued) and Matthew A. Walker; Hall, Jaffe & Clayton; Las Vegas, Nevada; for Defendant-Appellee.

Before: Jerome Farris, Jay S. Bybee, and N. Randy Smith, Circuit Judges.

SUMMARY

[*]

Labor Law

The panel reversed the district court's dismissal of disability discrimination and retaliation claims brought against a union under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The district court held that the ADA claims were barred by issue preclusion because of a ruling in a prior case that the union had not breached its duty of fair representation. Agreeing with the Seventh Circuit, the panel held that a prima facie claim of disability discrimination against a union does not require a showing of a breach of the duty of fair representation. Accordingly, the plaintiff's claims were not barred by issue preclusion. The panel also held that the ADA complaint was not barred by claim preclusion. It remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings.

OPINION

Bybee Judge

Rosemary Garity, a clerk at the United States Postal Service office in Pahrump, Nevada, suffers from a litany of physical and emotional disabilities. Despite her willingness to perform her job duties, Garity repeatedly complained to her representatives at the American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO ("APWU") that postal service management refused to accommodate her disabilities. Garity alleges that APWU, rather than filing and processing her grievances, sided with management, discriminating and retaliating against her because of her disabilities.

Garity brought two complaints against APWU in federal court, alleging a contractual breach of APWU's duty of fair representation in the first, and alleging a series of violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and Nevada state tort laws in the second. After two different district court judges determined that Garity's complaints should proceed as independent actions, one district court judge (Dawson, J.) dismissed Garity's first complaint, finding that, though APWU's behavior towards Garity may have been negligent, APWU's actions were not a breach of its duty of fair representation. In light of this judgment, a second district court judge (Pro, J.) tossed Garity's second complaint, ruling that, because a prima facie claim of disability discrimination against a union necessarily required a showing of a breach of the duty of fair representation, Garity's ADA claims were barred by the issue preclusion doctrine. Garity had failed to prove a required element in her first complaint, the district court explained, and there was no need to re-litigate that element in her second complaint.

The question before us is whether a prima facie claim for disability discrimination against a union necessarily requires a showing that the union breached its duty of fair representation. If so, the district court's application of the issue preclusion bar was proper and Garity's ADA claims fail; if not, Garity's ADA claims survive. We endorse the Seventh Circuit's reasoning in Green v. American Federation of Teachers/Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 604, 740 F.3d 1104 (7th Cir. 2014), and hold that a prima facie disability discrimination claim against a union does not require that a plaintiff demonstrate that the union breached its duty of fair representation. Accordingly, Garity's ADA claims are not barred by issue preclusion, and we reverse and remand to the district court for further proceedings.

I

A.

Facts

Garity began working as a clerk at the United States Postal Service office in Pahrump, Nevada in 2008, and served as the "shop steward" of Local #7156-the Pahrump affiliate of the APWU-from 2009 to 2011.1 Garity describes herself as "a disabled individual" suffering from a range of "physical and mental impairments" that include "heel spurs, chest pain, chronic fatigue, sleep disturbance, osteoporosis[, ] myalgia, muscle spasms and . . . cancer, " as well as "anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, [and] panic attacks." Despite her conditions, Garity asserts that she can "perform the essential functions of many of the duties available" as long as Postal Service management provides her with proper accommodations.

In 2010, Debra Blankenship was appointed postmaster of the Pahrump office. In response to perceived instances of favoritism and disparate treatment observed under the new leadership, Garity and other postal employees filed a hostile work environment grievance. At around the same time, Kathi Poulos was elected president of Local #7156, and Garity alleges that, though Poulos acknowledged Garity's grievance as "valid, " she refused to process it. After Garity was unable to attend a grievance meeting in Las Vegas in early 2011 due to her disabilities, Poulos removed Garity from her shop steward position and appointed herself to the position the next day. As part of Poulos's new duties as shop steward, she was responsible for filing employment grievances raised by Garity and other Local #7156 members with Postal Service management.

In the months that followed, Garity forwarded a litany of grievances to Poulos, alleging that management improperly delayed the mail, sent her home early without pay, and committed various acts of retaliation and harassment against her. Garity informed Poulos that "the contract had been violated" and reminded Poulos that it was her "job to represent employees, " but alleged that Poulos "did not investigate or file any of [her] grievances." Because Poulos "either wo[uld]n't [file] or ha[d] agreed with management to not file grievances, " Garity alleges in her complaint, "[m]anagement [was] well aware that they c[ould] do anything they want[ed] to [her] with no repercussions."

According to Garity, conditions in the Pahrump post office continued to deteriorate throughout 2011. In January, Garity asked Poulos to file a series of grievances stemming from an adverse disciplinary action taken against her by management, but Poulos refused, stating that she "already had too many grievances" to process and choosing instead to withdraw roughly a dozen of Garity's previously filed grievances. In February, the Pahrump office's management convened a meeting to discuss work assignments that accommodated Garity's disability, but rather than finding her appropriate tasks, post office management simply cut Garity's work hours. Stonewalled by Poulos, Garity approached an alternate APWU shop steward to see if he would file her grievances, but fared no better. And after Poulos refused to file additional grievances, withdrew others, and failed to represent her in the proceedings on still others, Garity filed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") and National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") complaints against her union for discrimination in February and March.

In April of 2011, Garity alleges that she was suspended for thirty days after an incident in which Garity refused to go into a room alone with a male employee against whom she had pending sexual harassment charges. An altercation with Blankenship ensued, and Poulos was called to the office. Garity alleges that Poulos did not sufficiently defend her in a three-page letter Poulos later wrote describing the incident, and that the letter was in fact used to justify Garity's suspension. Garity complained about Local #7156's actions to the national APWU to no avail, and, after repeatedly requesting additional disability accommodations, Garity was fired from her position on June 11, 2011.

B. Procedural History

In July 2011, Garity filed two separate complaints against APWU in federal court.2 Her first complaint ("Complaint One") alleged that APWU breached its duty of fair representation by violating provisions of its collective bargaining agreement. Garity, acting pro se, styled these claims as "breach of contract" claims. This complaint was assigned to the Honorable Kent Dawson of the District of Nevada.

Garity's second complaint-the one at issue here-was assigned to the Honorable Philip Pro of the District of Nevada ("Complaint Two"). In this complaint, Garity pleaded claims for...

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