September 5, 2018

Duty of fair representation


Duty of fair representation
Staten v Patrolmen’s Benevolent Ass’n.,  et al, USCA, Second Circuit, Docket 17-3764

In this action Claude A. Staten, pro se, sued his union, the Patrolmens’ Benevolent Association [PBA] for breach of contract, violation of the duty of fair representation, and discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district court dismissed Staten’s complaint for failure to state a claim. The Circuit Court, sustaining the lower court's ruling, said the district court had correctly dismissed Staten’s breach of contract claim.

The Circuit Court explained that:

1. A union member may sue his union for breach of a collective bargaining agreement, citing United Steelworkers of Am., AFL-CIO-CLC v. Rawson , 495 U.S. 362;

2. The union member “must be able to point to language in the collective-bargaining agreement specifically indicating an intent to create obligations enforceable against the union by the individual employees; and

3. Staten failed to cite any language from the CBA that obligated the PBA to provide legal representation to him in his discrimination lawsuits against the police department.

The Circuit Court noted that Staten alleged that the PBA’s website listed "the legal benefits the PBA offered active-duty police officers" for his or her legal representation. However, as the district court observed, however, those benefits "do not include representation in affirmative discrimination suits against the police department."

Further, the district court had dismissed Staten’s duty of fair representation claim as untimely, noting that there is a six-month statute of limitations for duty of fair representation claims and the PBA had denied Staten's request for representation eleven months before he filed his initial complaint in federal district court.
Although Staten argued that the PBA’s actions "were part of a continuous violation and that his lawsuit was therefore timely," the Circuit Court pointed out that "the continuous violation doctrine, which permits a plaintiff to raise challenges to otherwise time-barred events because they are a part of a pattern of illegal activity, does not apply to duty of fair representation claims," citing Buttry v. Gen. Signal Corp., 68 F.3d 1488.

Another element noted in the decision was that Staten’s Title VII claims ran afoul of a failure to exhaust administrative remedies as "[b]efore a plaintiff can file a federal court complaint under Title VII, he [or she] must exhaust his [or her] administrative remedies by filing a charge with the EEOC and receiving a right-to-sue letter.  Apparently Staten failed to obtain a right-to-sue letter before filing his original and amended complaints.


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