between the parties related to wages, hours, and conditions of employment." Here, I see no reason why Baker could not have asserted a grievance within the CBA process to complain about Brignac and Thomas' actions which allegedly affected her "conditions of employment", and Baker does not present any evidence to show otherwise. Because Baker can remedy her grievance through the multi-step CBA process authorized by Congress, established by the Postal Service, and approved by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Baker cannot maintain a constitutional claim in this court upon these facts.
B. Count IV: Fifth Amendment Due Process Claim
In Count IV Baker contends that she did not receive due process of the grievance that she filed to dispute the LOW she received from supervisor Carol Coursey because: (1) Bisbee-- a postal employee who, the Postal Service conceded in Baker I, had sexually harassed Baker-- decided her claim at Step 2 of the CBA process; (2) Bisbee's handling of her claim did not conform to CBA requirements; (3) Baker was only notified that a settlement had been reached at Step 3 months after it was executed; and (4) her supervisors fabricated a disciplinary problem which undermined the terms of the settlement. Defendants argue that Count IV should be dismissed because Bisbee's participation in the grievance process did not ultimately affect the outcome and because the process Baker received pursuant to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement constitutes due process.
I find that Baker was not deprived of due process for two reasons. First, the Seventh Circuit has found that the CBA process which Baker now attacks is adequate to provide "due process" in the constitutional sense, Roman v. United States Postal Service, 821 F.2d 382, 386 (7th Cir. 1987), and rightfully so given, among other things, the numerous opportunities to appeal that the system affords a complainant. See also Winston v. United States, 585 F.2d 198 (7th Cir. 1978). Admittedly, it is inherent in the design of the Postal Service's grievance-arbitration process that a complainant will likely be acquainted with at least one of the decision makers in her case because Postal Service employees are the final decision makers at every step. This may especially be true at Step 1 because the grieving employee's supervisor has decision making authority at that step. However, the CBA also protects against potential conflicts of interest by providing a grieving employee with four opportunities to appeal, and the final appeals are decided at the regional and national levels.
Baker's case demonstrates that the CBA grievance process works and possesses an in-built capacity to remedy conflicts of interest. Although Bisbee, with whom Baker has had run-ins in the past, decided her grievance at Step 2 (and denied it), the Union appealed this decision to Step 3 and settled it. Any unfairness that might have resulted from Bisbee's participation in the process was remedied by providing Baker the opportunity to appeal this decision, which she did with the effect of nullifying it.
Additionally, Baker complains that she did not receive prompt notice of the settlement, and she disputes its terms. These complaints do not suggest a due process claim so much as they call into question the quality of representation that Baker received during the grievance process. An employee may challenge the settlement of a grievance under the CBA by alleging that his or her employer violated the terms of the CBA or that the union breached its duty of fair representation. See Mincey v. United States Postal Service, 879 F. Supp. 567, 572 (S.D. Fla. 1995) (quoting DelCostello v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 164-65, 103 S. Ct. 2281, 2290, 76 L. Ed. 2d 476 (1983)). However, Baker did not assert such claims.
For all these reasons, I grant summary judgment to defendants on Counts III and IV.
C. Count V: Claim to Enforce an Administrative Decision
Defendants argue that Baker cannot now seek enforcement of the June 1994 administrative decision, the claim that she alleges in Count V, because it was already the subject of a lawsuit in Baker I, and thus it is barred by res judicata. "The doctrine of res judicata (claim preclusion) requires litigants to join in a single suit all legal and remedial theories that concern a single transaction." Perkins v. Board of Trustees of the Univ. of Illinois, 116 F.3d 235, 236 (7th Cir. 1997). "For res judicata to apply in federal court three requirements must be met: (1) an identity of the causes of action; (2) an identity of the parties or their privies; and (3) a final judgment on the merits.... In the first requirement, a cause of action consists of a 'single core of operative facts' which give rise to a remedy." Golden v. Barenborg, 53 F.3d 866, 869 (7th Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). Claims 'based on the same, or nearly the same, factual allegations' must be joined." Perkins, 116 F.3d at 236-37 (citations omitted). Thus, res judicata operates not only as a bar to further litigation of matters decided in the prior action, but also to any issues which could have been raised. Id., 53 F.3d at 869-70.
Here, I find an identity of parties because both Baker and Runyon have been involved in this case and in Baker I, and I conclude that the district court entered a final judgment in the first action. It seems clear, too, that there is an identity of causes of action: both here and in Baker I plaintiff has been seeking to enforce the June 14, 1994 administrative decision and the remedies provided to Baker therein. Baker admits as much in her response brief to defendants' motion by stating "plaintiff litigated these [i.e. the remedies of assignment to a facility of her choice and of expungement] issues before Magistrate Bobrick...." Pl. Resp. Br. at 14. A portion of a court transcript from Baker I confirms this wherein her attorney stated on the record,
The language I am suggesting is no more than the language they agreed to in the EEO decision, which, by the way, they have not lived up to. They were supposed to give her, back in 1994, a station of her choice as well as expunge her file.
If Baker did not like the magistrate judge's conclusion on these issues, she should have raised it in her appeal to the Seventh Circuit. But given that Baker had the opportunity to raise these issues in a prior lawsuit and in fact did so, this court cannot entertain them now.
Still, Baker maintains that this court should hear Count V because she filed a petition to enforce the June Decision with the EEOC pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.504(a), but the EEOC terminated processing her petition. 29 C.F.R. § 1614.504(a) provides that a complainant may notify the EEO Director if an agency fails to comply with the terms of a settlement agreement and request implementation of the terms or reinstatement of the complaint. Then, if the agency responds to the complainant in an unsatisfactory manner or fails to respond at all, the complainant may appeal to the Commission. EEOC regulations also provide that the agency or the Commission shall dismiss a complaint once it becomes the basis of a civil action. 29 C.F.R. §§ 1614.107(c), 1614.410. Here, Baker's petition to enforce was before the EEOC at the same time that a federal lawsuit pending in district court raised the issue of enforcing the June Decision, and so the EEOC became obligated to terminate processing Baker's complaint by its own regulations. By refusing to consider Baker's petition further the EEOC did not end all consideration of it, the EEOC merely yielded its jurisdiction over her claim so that the court could decide it. Res judicata precludes Baker from raising the same issues again (for the third time), and so I grant summary judgment to defendants.
Summary judgment is granted on Counts III, IV and V.
James B. Zagel
United States District Judge
Date: December 15, 1997