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Conrad v. Delta Air Lines Inc.

decided: April 12, 1974.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. 71-C-486 WILLIAM J. BAUER, Judge.

Fairchild and Sprecher, Circuit Judges, and Reynolds, District judge.*fn*

Author: Fairchild

FAIRCHILD, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Conrad, a former Delta Air Lines pilot, has appealed from a summary judgment in favor of defendants Delta and the pilots' bargaining representative, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). Delta had requested Conrad's resignation. He claims this was an unlawful discharge and that ALPA breached its duty of fair representation. The complaint sought declaratory relief, back pay, and reinstatement.

Plaintiff's original complaint, filed February 23, 1971, stated that Delta hired plaintiff as a pilot on August 15, 1969; he thereby became a member of the bargaining unit represented by ALPA, and an apprentice member of ALPA. There was a collective bargaining agreement between Delta and ALPA. Sections 32 and 33 prohibit dismissal without a specified procedure of investigation and hearing, but section 32(c) (2) provided that "Nothing in this Agreement shall extend the right of investigation and hearing to a pilot during his first twelve (12) months of service." Section 28 provided that "Each pilot except a captain shall be on probation for a period not to exceed the first twelve (12) months of his aggregate service as a line pilot of the Company."

On July 17, 1970, while plaintiff was still on probation, Delta requested his resignation under threat of discharge and plaintiff resigned. We shall treat the termination as a discharge, as plaintiff claims. On September 29, 1970, plaintiff requested that ALPA represent him in a grievance proceeding under the collective bargaining agreement, and ALPA refused. On November 12, 1970, plaintiff asked Delta for a hearing under the agreement, but Delta refused. Both Delta and ALPA relied on section 32(c) (2) to justify denying plaintiff an investigation and hearing before discharge. Plaintiff also averred that he has no recourse before a board of adjustment because such board was established by an agreement dated February 5, 1970 and the agreement limited the board to disputes submitted by Delta or ALPA. In fact the paragraph defining jurisdiction of the board clearly is broad enough to include plaintiff's dispute. Plaintiff, in arguing that he would be barred from bringing his claim individually, relies on another allegedly limiting paragraph which says the board "shall consider" a dispute submitted by officers of ALPA or Delta. Thus there is an area of ambiguity.

The complaint asserted that sections 32 and 33 of the collective bargaining agreement and the limiting paragraph in the February 5, 1970 agreement "are contrary to 45 U.S.C. §§ 182, 184, and 152."

In the course of discovery, plaintiff obtained copies of documents in Delta's file concerning plaintiff. Thereafter plaintiff obtained leave to amend and on January 3, 1972 added a paragraph to his complaint stating that the discharge was in violation of 45 U.S.C. § 152 because Delta was motivated in discharging him by his activity as a member of ALPA.

Thus plaintiff ultimately made two assaults on the validity of his discharge. In his original complaint, he claimed that the discharge was unlawful because he had not been accorded the right to investigation and hearing. In the amendment to his complaint he claimed that the discharge was unlawful under 45 U.S.C. § 152, Fourth, because it achieved a denial of or interference with his right to join a union of his choice. He also claimed that ALPA's failure to assist him, at least with his initial claim, was a breach of its duty of fair representation.

It will be convenient to consider the two grounds of assault separately.

1. Discharge of a probationary pilot without prior investigation and hearing.

Plaintiff's theory on this point is elusive. The collective bargaining agreement clearly provides that the right, spelled out in the agreement, not to be dismissed without investigation and hearing, is not enjoyed by probationary pilots. Plaintiff suggests no basis for an interpretation of the agreement which would entitle a probationary pilot to that right. He seems almost to concede that the difference in treatment, in this regard, between pilots with less than one year's service and those with one year or more does not cause the agreement to be in violation of the Railway Labor Act.

In the absence of a statute or an agreement, an employer may discharge his employee for cause or without cause, and the Act does not limit the employer's right to discharge to instances involving cause. Russ v. Southern Ry. Co., 334 F.2d 224, 228 (6th Cir., 1964), cert. denied, 379 U.S. 991, 13 L. Ed. 2d 611, 85 S. Ct. 699. In our case the employer has agreed to limit its freedom to discharge a pilot who has served one year or more, but plaintiff is not in that class.

The conditioning of an employee's right not to be discharged without a hearing on his having a certain period of service is not arbitrary nor irrational. The rationality of an employer's having greater freedom to discharge during a probationary or testing period seems obvious. It is not the type of hostile discrimination against a group of employees which would lie beyond the proper scope of a collective bargaining agreement. Steele v. Louisville & ...

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