United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, E.D
April 18, 1983
BILLY STERLING ADAMS, PLAINTIFF,
UNITED AIRLINES, INC., DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Decker, Senior District Judge.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Billy Sterling Adams ("Adams"), has brought this action
against United Air Lines, Inc. ("United"), alleging that United prevented
him from resuming his regular employment duties after he sustained a back
injury at defendant's San Francisco, California facility, and that his
subsequent discharge from United's employ was wrongful. In his amended
complaint, Adams contends that United manipulated the reports of treating
and evaluating physicians, that his discharge was racially motivated,
that he was harassed by a private investigator hired by United and that
United's actions have caused him severe emotional distress. While failing
to state so specifically, Adams apparently claims that the jurisdiction
of this court is founded upon diversity of citizenship. Currently pending
is defendant's motion for summary judgment.
I. Factual Background.
Plaintiff Adams, presently a citizen of California, was initially
employed by United as a ramp serviceman on October 14, 1969. He worked in
Chicago at the O'Hare International Airport until April, 1976, at which
time he was transferred to San Francisco.
On November 30, 1976, Adams sustained a back injury while at work. He
worked periodically between the date of the injury and July, 1977, at
which time he was placed on Extended Illness Status ("EIS"). EIS is
defined in the collective bargaining agreement ("the agreement") between
United and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
("IAM") as a status where an employee continues to accrue seniority and
retains certain benefits, but is not paid. EIS is usually no more than
two years in duration, but may be extended if circumstances warrant. If
the two year period is not extended, the employee is automatically
terminated. Pursuant to this provision, Adams was terminated on December
Under the IAM-United collective bargaining agreement, an employee who
disagrees with separation from EIS may file a grievance, and may further
appeal to the System Board of Adjustment. (See Articles XV(D), XVIII).*fn2
The IAM did in fact grieve Adams' December 21 separation, but
subsequently withdrew its grievance after determining that United's
discharge did not violate the contract.
Throughout 1977 and 1979, Adams' medical and work status was thoroughly
reviewed in connection with both his pending California worker's
compensation claim*fn3 and with attempts to return him to active
employment. While several medical reports suggest that, during the first
six months of 1977, Adams could return to work and perform his regular
duties, it is not entirely clear whether during this period he actually
performed the heavy manual labor required of ramp servicemen and if so,
the number of days on which this occurred. It does appear that Adams
drove a tractor during at least some of this time.
At no time after late July, 1977 did Adams present any note or letter
from his physician releasing him to work without physical restriction.
In his memorandum filed in opposition to United's motion for summary
judgment, Adams sets forth a somewhat rambling narration of the medical
examination process, from which he concludes that United deliberately
manipulated medical reports so as to prevent him from resuming his
regular job. He seems to imply that there was some conspiratorial motive
guiding United's physicians. Adams charges that the manipulation of the
medical reports represents a breach of "a duty of good faith towards the
plaintiff," (plaintiff's memorandum, p. 13), and that it led to his
wrongful discharge from United's employ.
In 1936, Congress extended coverage of the Railway Labor Act ("RLA") to
the air transportation industry. 45 U.S.C. § 181-188. One of the
primary purposes of the RLA is to minimize interruptions in the nation's
transportation services by strikes and labor disputes. International
Association of Machinists v. Central Airlines, Inc., 372 U.S. 682, 687,
83 S.Ct. 956, 959, 10 L.Ed.2d 67 (1963). To effectuate that purpose, the
Act provides for the creation of system adjustment boards to arbitrate
the so-called "minor" disputes between employees and carriers. "Minor"
disputes are defined as "controversies over the meaning of an existing
collective bargaining agreement in a particular fact situation, generally
involving only one employee." Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Chicago
River & Indiana Railroad Co., 353 U.S. 30, 33, 77 S.Ct. 635, 636, 1
L.Ed.2d 622 (1957)*fn4 The adjustment boards represent a "mandatory,
exclusive and comprehensive system for resolving grievance disputes."
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers v. Louisville & Nashville Railroad
Co., 373 U.S. 33, 38, 83 S.Ct. 1059, 1062, 10 L.Ed.2d 172 (1963). See
also De La Rosa Sanchez v. Eastern Airlines, Inc., 574 F.2d 29, 31-32
(1st Cir. 1978). Ordinarily, courts do not have jurisdiction over the
merits of any employment dispute subject to determination by a system
board of adjustment. Andrews v. Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co.,
406 U.S. 320, 92 S.Ct. 1562, 32 L.Ed.2d 95 (1972); Chicago and
Northwestern Transportation Co. v. United Transportation Union,
656 F.2d 274, 277 (7th Cir. 1981).*fn5
United contends that all claims set forth by Adams, except his race
discrimination claim, are "minor" disputes and are therefore
jurisdictionally barred by the RLA. It argues that Adams' claims are
governed by the discharge and arbitration remedies outlined in the
collective bargaining agreement. In response, Adams rejects United's
characterization of this action as contractual in nature, urging instead
that he has avoided the preemption set forth in Andrews by confining his
complaint to common law tort actions for wrongful discharge and
intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The court agrees with United, and finds that all of Adams' non-racially
based claims are jurisdictionally barred. The basic injury of which Adams
complains, his wrongful discharge, is plainly contractual in nature and,
accordingly, his complaint involves a "minor" dispute which must be
arbitrated pursuant to the RLA's mandatory grievance provisions. See
Andrews, 406 U.S. at 324, 92 S.Ct. at 1565; Magnuson v. Burlington
Northern, Inc., 576 F.2d 1367, 1369 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 930,
99 S.Ct. 318, 58 L.Ed.2d 323 (1978). Any damages which Adams claims to
have suffered flowed from his alleged wrongful dismissal from his
employment. The purported evil motivation of United would cause no legal
injury absent a finding that the discharge was wrongful. Adams' use of
the words "wrongfully" and "knowingly" to characterize United's actions
cannot alter these basic facts. Thus, plaintiff's attempt "to make an
end-run around the jurisdictional scope of [the] RLA by the use of an
ingeniously framed complaint alleging a tort[,]" De La Rosa Sanchez v.
Eastern Airlines, Inc., 574 F.2d 29, 32 (1st Cir. 1978), must fail.
Adams' attempt to avoid the scope of the RLA by characterizing his
action as one involving the tortious infliction of emotional distress is
equally unavailing.*fn6 Such a characterization again misses the basic
point that all of Adams' alleged injuries flow from his discharge. In
Magnuson, plaintiff was discharged from his employment as a train
dispatcher for his alleged negligence in causing the collision of two
trains. He claimed that he was the victim of a conspiracy among railroad
personnel, including supervisors, investigators and hearing officers, to
conceal the fact that railroad negligence actually caused the accident.
Plaintiff argued that the gist of his action was tortious infliction of
emotional distress. The Ninth Circuit disagreed, stating:
"Every employee who believes he has a legitimate
grievance will doubtless have some emotional anguish
occasioned by his belief that he has been wronged.
Artful pleading cannot conceal the reality that the
gravamen of the complaint is wrongful discharge. If
the pleading of emotional injury permitted aggrieved
employees to avoid the impact of the R.L.A., the
congressional purpose of providing a comprehensive
federal scheme for the settlement of the
employer-employee disputes in the railroad industry,
without resort to the courts, would be thwarted."
Magnuson, 576 F.2d at 1369 (emphasis supplied). See also Beers v.
Southern Pacific Transportation Co., 110 LRRM 2782, 2785-86 (N.D.Cal.
1981); Choate v. Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co., 110 LRRM 2780,
2781-82 (S.D.Ill. 1981). The court finds this reasoning equally
applicable to the air transportation industry.
Adams' complaint thus sets forth a contractual claim arising out of an
alleged wrongful discharge, a claim which must be resolved pursuant to
the grievance procedures outlines by the RLA. Absent a charge that he was
unfairly represented by the union, see note 5, supra, this court is
without jurisdiction to hear all of Adams non-racially based claims.
III. Adams' Race Discrimination Claim.
In Texas Department of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248,
252-53, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 1093, 67 L.Ed.2d 207 (1981), the Supreme Court
reiterated the now well-accepted formula, initially set forth in
McDonnell Douglas v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 93 S.Ct. 1817, 36 L.Ed.2d 668
(1973), for evaluating a claim of employment discrimination:*fn7
"First, the plaintiff has the burden of proving by the
preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case of
discrimination. Second, if the plaintiff succeeds in
proving the prima facie case, the burden shifts to the
defendant `to articulate some legitimate,
nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's
rejection.' Third, should the defendant carry this
burden, the plaintiff must then have an opportunity to
prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the
legitimate reasons offered by the defendant were not
its true reasons, but were a pretext for
discrimination." (Citations omitted.)
See also United States Postal Service Board of Governors v. Aikens, ___
U.S. ___, 103 S.Ct. 1478, 75 L.Ed.2d 403 (1983); Soria v. Ozinga Bros.,
Inc., 704 F.2d 990 (7th Cir. 1983); Mason v. Continental Illinois
National Bank, 704 F.2d 361 (7th Cir. 1983); Golomb v. Prudential
Insurance Co. of America. 688 F.2d 547 (7th Cir. 1982).
In his complaint, Adams contends that "the refusal of Defendant to
assign Plaintiff to available less strenuous work and the discharge of
Plaintiff were racially motivated." (Complaint, ¶ 7(E)). This
represents the sole allegation in the complaint relating to Adams' racial
discrimination claim. While Adams attempts in his memorandum to support
his charge with a claim that two supervisors, Mike Scanlon and John
Steadman, made racially demeaning comments in his presence, he fails to
provide any facts linking them or their comments to his discharge.
Indeed, several statements by Adams in his deposition plainly reveal that
his assertions are without merit:
Q. All right, Let me ask you about Scanlon. You
mentioned that Scanlon was the supervisor on duty.
What knowledge does he have of this case?
A. He was my immediate supervisor the night that I got
hurt and it was he that took me to Peninsula
Q. What about his knowledge of your attempting to be
returned to work? Do you have any facts relating to
A. No, I don't have any facts relating to that.
Q. Any knowledge on his role in your eventual
(Adams' deposition, p. 112). As to Steadman's
involvement in Adams' discharge, the court notes the
Q. Do you have any facts at all which would link
Steadman up in any way to your eventual discharge?
A. Other than this? [Apparently pointing to letter of
reprimand, dated February 19, 1977.]
(Adams' deposition, pp. 166-67).*fn8
Adams has thus failed to set forth any concrete evidence to support his
claim that United's motive in terminating him was his race. As stated in
Kephart v. Institute of Gas Technology, 630 F.2d 1217, 1218 (7th Cir.
1980), cert. denied, 450 U.S. 959, 101 S.Ct. 1418, 67 L.Ed.2d 383
"Summary judgment is improper in a discrimination case
— or any other — if it involves — as
it often must — any weighing of conflicting
indications of motive and intent. Here plaintiff had
no indications of motive and intent, supportive of his
position, to put on the scales for weighing. It was a
wholly empty case. In such circumstances, summary
judgment is proper."
See also Patterson v. General Motors Corp., 631 F.2d 476
, 482 (7th Cir.
1980), cert. denied, 451 U.S. 914
, 101 S.Ct. 1988
68 L.Ed.2d 304 (1981) ("[m]ere conclusory allegations of discrimination
are not sufficient to withstand to motion for summary judgment, . . .");
Mason, 704 F.2d at 367 (same).
For the reasons stated above, United's motion for summary judgment is
granted. The cause is ordered dismissed.