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Cavanaugh v. UAW International Union

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

February 2, 2017

Gay Cavanaugh, Plaintiff,
UAW International Union, et al., Defendants.

          Mona K. Majzoub, U.S. Magistrate Judge


          Arthur J. Tarnow Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Gay Cavanaugh, an employee at Ford Motor Company, was placed on medical leave in November 2004. Plaintiff contacted Ford about returning to her position in the Clerk's Department upon the expiration of her medical leave in January 2006, but to no avail. After Ms. Cavanaugh returned to work in January 2007, Defendant UAW Local No. 228 filed a grievance on her behalf, challenging Ford's inability to place Ms. Cavanaugh in a position consistent with her medical restrictions. UAW Local No. 228 investigated Plaintiff's allegations by meeting with supervisors at Ford and extensively reviewing documents. After determining that there was no evidence to support Plaintiff's complaints, Local No. 228 withdrew the grievance in September 2012.

         Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on September 11, 2015, alleging that UAW Local No. 228 and Co-Defendant UAW International breached their duty to fairly represent her. According to Plaintiff, Defendants failed to obtain her authorization before withdrawing the grievance; failed to communicate with her while the grievance was processed; wrongfully withdrew the grievance; acted arbitrarily and/or in bad faith; and failed to adequately administer and/or adjudicate her dispute with Ford.

         Plaintiff's submissions to the Court are muddled and confusing. According to the complaint, Plaintiff brings this action under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 185 et seq. However, in her Response to Defendants' Motion, Plaintiff for the first time states that she brings her claims pursuant to Section 9 of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 159 et seq. In other portions of her Response, Plaintiff proceeds as though Section 301 governs her claims. The Court will address this discrepancy in more detail later in this Opinion.

         The Court has considered the parties' submissions and finds the motion suitable for determination without oral argument pursuant to Local Rule 7.1(f)(2). For the reasons stated below, the Court will GRANT the Motion to Dismiss/Motion for Summary Judgment as to both defendants. Plaintiff consents to dismissal of her claims as to Defendant UAW International. The Court will also dismiss Plaintiff's claims as to Defendant UAW Local 228 because she has failed to allege that the union acted in a hostile or discriminatory manner; that the union exercised its discretion in bad faith; or that the union engaged in arbitrary conduct. See Airline Pilots Ass'n Int'l v. O'Neill, 499 U.S. 65, 76 (1991).

         Factual Background

         Plaintiff Gay Cavanaugh has been a Ford Motor Company employee[1] in the Clerk's Department at the axle plant in Sterling, Michigan since 1996. While working at Ford, Plaintiff has been a member of a bargaining unit represented by UAW Local 228. The terms and conditions of her employment are governed by several collective bargaining agreements between Ford and the UAW, including the 2003 Master Agreement (Dkt 9-2, Ex. A, Pg. ID 94), which establishes the grievance procedures at issue in this case.

         I. Plaintiff's attempts to return to work after medical leave and the filing of the 2007 grievance.

         Ford placed Plaintiff on medical leave in November 2004. Her leave expired in January 2006. Throughout 2006, Plaintiff attempted to return to work under physician-imposed restrictions, including sedentary work with a sit/stand option and constraints on her use of heavy machinery. (Dkt. 16-1, Ex. A, Pg. ID 584-97).

         However, Ford consistently informed Plaintiff that no work was available within her job classification. Id. In January 2007, Plaintiff returned to the position at which she worked prior to her medical leave. According to Plaintiff, this position was available in 2006 - while she continuously sought employment - and it was consistent with her medical restrictions. Plaintiff was compensated while on leave, but did not receive overtime pay, seniority, or time toward her pension. As part of her efforts to reenter the work force, Plaintiff requested assistance from several different union representatives, including Jerry Payne, Gary Martin, Donnie Marshall, and Jeff Terry.

         As a result of Ford's failure to reinstate Plaintiff in January 2006, UAW Local 228 District Committeman Ken Gaffa filed grievance #CC-312933 on Plaintiff's behalf on March 22, 2007 (Dkt. 16-1, Pg. ID 599). The basis of Plaintiff's grievance was that Ford transferred employee Marla Woodford to a vacant position in the Clerk's Department rather than recalling Plaintiff to this position.

         Article VII of the Master Agreement governs Local No. 228's grievance protocols. The Agreement provides, in relevant part:

[T]he Union shall, in the redress of alleged violations by the Company of this Agreement . . . be the exclusive representative of the interests of each employee or group of employees covered by this Agreement, and only the Union shall have the right to assert and press against the Company any claim, proceeding or action asserting a violation of this agreement.

(Dkt. 9-2, Ex. A, pg. 44-45).

         The Master Agreement also gives the union the power to withdraw a grievance or appeal a grievance, even absent the employee's consent. Id. at pg. 48, 51 (“The Unit Committee shall have power to withdraw a . . . grievance . . .”).

         The grievance procedure begins with oral discussions among the employee, the UAW District Committeeperson, and the employee's supervisor at Ford. In the event that the grievance is not resolved at that point, the Committeeperson may appeal to Stage 2. Assuming oral discussion is unsuccessful, the written grievance is submitted to the company at a Unit Grievance Meeting. The company has one week to issue a written decision on all grievances considered at the Grievance Meeting. Id. at 45-47.

         The Chairperson of the Unit Committee may refer the grievance to Stage 3 if she considers it to be well-founded. The company is given notice of the third stage grievance, and both parties must exchange a complete and detailed statement of the facts and circumstances surrounding the grievance. If the grievance contains a claim for discrimination, the Bargaining Chairperson may refer the grievance to the Chairperson of the Civil Rights Committee of the Local Union for investigation. Id. at 48-49.

         Pursuant to step 1 of the Article VII grievance process, Gaffa met with Plaintiff and a Ford supervisor for an initial oral discussion. They were unable to resolve the grievance at this time.

         II. Neil Wallyn's involvement with Plaintiff's grievance.

         Gaffa appealed to the second step of the procedure on March 23, 2007, and referred Plaintiff's grievance to Plant Committeman Neil Wallyn. Wallyn was then handling approximately 300 other active grievances within the bargaining unit at the Plant. (Dkt. 9-2 at Pg. ID 85-86).

         Wallyn reviewed the step 1 record, all applicable contracts between the UAW and Ford, and met with Plaintiff. After examining Article VIII, Section 30 of the Master Agreement, [2] Wallyn could not identify any specific contractual provision requiring Ford to immediately recall Plaintiff from medical leave ...

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