Beckett v. Atlas Air, Inc., No. CV 95-480(RJD).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
Writing for the CourtDearie
Citation968 F.Supp. 814
PartiesStewart W. BECKETT, Jr., Plaintiff, v. ATLAS AIR, INC., Defendant.
Docket NumberNo. CV 95-480(RJD).
Decision Date24 June 1997
968 F.Supp. 814
Stewart W. BECKETT, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
ATLAS AIR, INC., Defendant.
No. CV 95-480(RJD).
United States District Court, E.D. New York.
June 24, 1997.

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Leon Rosenblatt, West Hartford, CT, for Plaintiff.

J. Robert Kirk, Douglas W. Hall, Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand, Washington, DC, Mary E. Flynn, Morrison, Cohen, Singer & Weinstein, New York City, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

DEARIE, District Judge.


In August 1994, plaintiff Stewart Beckett ("Beckett") was terminated from his employment as a pilot for defendant Atlas Air, Inc. ("Atlas") on grounds of insubordination. Beckett claims he was fired for engaging in collective bargaining activities protected by the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151 et seq. (the "RLA").1 Atlas has moved for summary judgment.

Before working for Atlas, Beckett had been employed for many years by Pan American World Airways, but lost his job when that airline sought protection of the bankruptcy laws. In January, 1993, he was hired

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by Atlas, then a new cargo airline. At the time of Beckett's employment and termination, Atlas' flight crews were not unionized. Beckett, a longtime union supporter, had been elected by a group of employees to represent them in discussions with management regarding the terms and conditions of their employment. It is undisputed that this group was composed of a minority of Atlas crew members; thus, Beckett could not have been considered the official collective bargaining representative of all crew members. Nevertheless, Beckett met with Atlas management representatives a number of times in 1994, allegedly to discuss issues relating to employment conditions.

Throughout most of 1994, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (the "IBT") was attempting to organize crew members at Atlas. Beckett, meanwhile, was engaged in what he describes as "collective bargaining" efforts on behalf of his nonunionized co-workers. Management claims it was concerned that any perceived support of Mr. Beckett's efforts could subject it to charges of "sponsoring" an in-house union while the IBT was attempting to organize Atlas employees. The RLA, like the National Labor Relations Act (the "NLRA"), requires an employer to maintain "laboratory conditions" during a union election campaign. Otherwise, if a union garners enough support to demand an election and then loses, it can petition the National Mediation Board (the "NMB") to overturn the election results based on the employer's "sponsorship" of a rival collective bargaining representative during the election campaign. See 45 U.S.C. § 152, Ninth.2 In such cases, the NMB can order a second election, conducted under special conditions whereby a union can be certified without the support of a majority of eligible voters.3

In light of these concerns, Atlas claims it scheduled a meeting with Beckett on July 26, 1994, for the purpose of explaining that he was not to represent to other employees that he was in any way engaged in collective bargaining with the company. Beckett claims he believed the purpose of the meeting was to continue discussions regarding employee grievances and certain conditions of employment. He now describes the meeting as a "set up," in that Atlas had invited its labor counsel to be present. According to Atlas, Beckett was clearly instructed that it would be "intolerable" for him to represent or imply in any way that he was authorized to bargain collectively with management as an employee representative. These instructions were repeated in follow-up correspondence from Atlas' counsel.

Atlas claims that after the meeting, Beckett contacted other crew members to announce his collective bargaining "successes" at the July 26 meeting. Atlas describes Beckett as somewhat delusional and self-important, experiencing the meeting not as an admonishment but as an important bargaining session filled with significant accomplishments on behalf of his co-workers. On August 4, 1994, Atlas fired Beckett when he returned from a vacation, citing his "insubordination"

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in the aftermath of the July 26 meeting. After management read a letter to Beckett's co-workers explaining the termination, Beckett filed this action, alleging wrongful termination and defamation.

After Atlas filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, this Court dismissed the defamation claim by Memorandum and Order dated August 14, 1995. 1995 WL 498703 (E.D.N.Y. Aug.14, 1995). The Court ruled, however, that an implied private right of action does exist for violation of pre-certification employee rights created by the RLA, and refused to dismiss the wrongful discharge claim. Atlas now moves for summary judgment on the wrongful discharge claim or, in the alternative, for an order: (a) awarding Atlas partial summary judgment on Beckett's claim for lost wages, in that Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") regulations would have required his disqualification as a pilot less than two years after his termination, upon his sixtieth birthday; (b) striking the demand for punitive damages; and (c) striking the jury demand. For the reasons articulated below, defendant's motion is denied in all respects.

DISCUSSION
I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT

The NLRA does not apply to employers subject to the RLA, 29 U.S.C. § 152(2) (defining "employer" for NLRA purposes), but many of the cases which do address RLA wrongful discharge claims have adopted standards analogous to those employed in similar cases under the NLRA. See, e.g., Lebow v. American Trans Air, Inc., 86 F.3d 661, 665-66 (7th Cir.1996) (applying NLRA standard in RLA wrongful discharge action); Schlang v. Key Airlines, Inc., 794 F.Supp. 1493, 1498 (D.Nev.1992), vacated in part on other grounds, 158 F.R.D. 666 (D.Nev.1994). Under those standards, which the Court will apply in this case, a wrongful termination plaintiff must demonstrate: (a) he was engaged in activity protected by the RLA; (b) defendant was aware of that activity; (c) defendant harbored animus toward the protected activity; and (d) the animus was a causal factor in plaintiff's termination. See Carry Cos. of Ill., Inc. v. NLRB, 30 F.3d 922, 927 (7th Cir.1994). This framework has been developed in cases under Section 8(a)(3) of the NLRA, which makes it an unfair labor practice to "discriminate in regard to ... tenure of employment ... to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization." 29 U.S.C. § 158(a)(3).

As this Court stated in its August 14, 1995 Memorandum and Order, the RLA does not explicitly provide a private right of action for wrongful discharge. Rather, the statute creates an administrative scheme requiring parties to collective bargaining agreements in the airline and railway industries to submit disputes to prescribed methods of dispute resolution before resorting to strikes or other forms of self-help. Since these mechanisms are not available to non-unionized employees, this Court and others have concluded that a private right of action exists for such employees for violations of the rights provided them by the RLA. See Aug. 14, 1995 Memorandum & Order, at 3-4, 1997 WL 498703, at *2 (citing additional cases).

Burdens of Proof and Production

The parties disagree on the analytical approach the Court should take in assessing Beckett's claim. Atlas urges the Court to apply a burden-shifting approach similar to that articulated by the Supreme Court for cases arising under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended. See Texas Dep't of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981) (once plaintiff makes prima facie showing, burden shifts to employer to produce a non-violative reason for discharge; burden then shifts back to employee to show employer's justification is pretextual; ultimate burden of proof on all issues remains with employee); McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 802, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 1824, 36 L.Ed.2d 668 (1973) (same). Beckett, on the other hand, claims that in the labor context, a pure burden-shifting analysis is appropriate: once a prima facie showing is made, the burden of proof (not just production) shifts to the employer to demonstrate that an illegal motive played no part in the termination decision. Both parties rely on the seminal case of Wright Line, a Div. of Wright Line, Inc., 251 N.L.R.B. 1083, 1980 WL 12312 (1980), enforced, NLRB v. Wright

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Line, 662 F.2d 899 (1st Cir.1981), cert. denied, 455 U.S. 989, 102 S.Ct. 1612, 71 L.Ed.2d 848 (1982).

In Wright Line, the National Labor Relations Board (the "NLRB") reformulated the burden of proof applicable to NLRA wrongful termination cases, holding that the NLRB General Counsel, acting as complainant, has the burden of proving, among the other elements of its case, that anti-union animus contributed to the employee's termination. If the General Counsel meets this burden, the employer nevertheless can avoid liability by showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the termination would have occurred regardless of the employee's participation in protected activities. See NLRB v. Transportation Management Corp., 462 U.S. 393, 395, 103 S.Ct. 2469, 2471, 76 L.Ed.2d 667 (1983) (summarizing Wright Line). The First Circuit, in reviewing the NLRB's Wright Line decision, held that it is improper to place such a heavy burden on the employer. 662 F.2d at 904. The court ruled that an employer cannot be required to prove that the termination would have occurred on legitimate grounds, but may be required to produce evidence sufficient to rebut the presumption of wrongfulness created when the General Counsel has demonstrated that an unlawful discharge has occurred. Id. The court did not apply Burdine's burden shifting approach, as Atlas implies. Rather, it simply noted an analogy between its analysis and that Title VII case, in that, under Burdine, employers are given a burden of producing a legitimate reason for the discharge, while the burden...

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9 practice notes
  • Design Strategies, Inc. v. Davis, No. 02CIV5329VM.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • April 28, 2005
    ...On the other hand, other courts have described common-law tort claims as "historically legal in nature." Beckett v. Atlas Air, Inc., 968 F.Supp. 814, 825 (E.D.N.Y.1997) (citation omitted). Cf. Restatement (First) of Restitution § 128 (1937) ("`Tortiously' refers to such wrongful conduct as ......
  • In re Express One Intern., Inc., Bankruptcy No. 95-41189.
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Fifth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Eastern District of Texas
    • January 5, 1999
    ...adopted standards analogous to those employed in cases under the National Labor Relations Act ("N.L.R.A."). Beckett v. Atlas Air, Inc. 968 F.Supp. 814, 817 (E.D.N.Y.1997). In the past, the Supreme Court has looked to the N.L.R.A. for assistance in construing the R.L.A.. Brotherhood of R.R. ......
  • Valdivieso v. Atlas Air, Inc., No. 02-11185 Non-Argument Calendar.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • September 20, 2002
    ...a common carrier under the RLA. See Atlas Air, Inc. v. Air Line Pilots Ass'n, 232 F.3d 218 (D.C.Cir.2000); Beckett v. Atlas Air, Inc., 968 F.Supp. 814 The Appellants also claim that the air carrier exemption should not apply to their positions with Atlas Air because such a reading of the st......
  • ABM Onsite Servs.—W., Inc. v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd., No. 15-1299
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • March 7, 2017
    ...under the NLRA, as it protects a wider array of "concerted activity" by employees than does the RLA. See Beckett v. Atlas Air, Inc. , 968 F.Supp. 814, 820 (E.D.N.Y. 1997) (citing cases).The RLA originally covered only common carriers, but Congress expanded the Act in 1934 to cover certain c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
9 cases
  • Design Strategies, Inc. v. Davis, No. 02CIV5329VM.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • April 28, 2005
    ...On the other hand, other courts have described common-law tort claims as "historically legal in nature." Beckett v. Atlas Air, Inc., 968 F.Supp. 814, 825 (E.D.N.Y.1997) (citation omitted). Cf. Restatement (First) of Restitution § 128 (1937) ("`Tortiously' refers to such wrongful conduct as ......
  • In re Express One Intern., Inc., Bankruptcy No. 95-41189.
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Fifth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Eastern District of Texas
    • January 5, 1999
    ...adopted standards analogous to those employed in cases under the National Labor Relations Act ("N.L.R.A."). Beckett v. Atlas Air, Inc. 968 F.Supp. 814, 817 (E.D.N.Y.1997). In the past, the Supreme Court has looked to the N.L.R.A. for assistance in construing the R.L.A.. Brotherhood of R.R. ......
  • Valdivieso v. Atlas Air, Inc., No. 02-11185 Non-Argument Calendar.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • September 20, 2002
    ...a common carrier under the RLA. See Atlas Air, Inc. v. Air Line Pilots Ass'n, 232 F.3d 218 (D.C.Cir.2000); Beckett v. Atlas Air, Inc., 968 F.Supp. 814 The Appellants also claim that the air carrier exemption should not apply to their positions with Atlas Air because such a reading of the st......
  • ABM Onsite Servs.—W., Inc. v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd., No. 15-1299
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • March 7, 2017
    ...under the NLRA, as it protects a wider array of "concerted activity" by employees than does the RLA. See Beckett v. Atlas Air, Inc. , 968 F.Supp. 814, 820 (E.D.N.Y. 1997) (citing cases).The RLA originally covered only common carriers, but Congress expanded the Act in 1934 to cover certain c......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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