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Justin D. Reed v. Norfolk Southern Railway Company

April 26, 2003

JUSTIN D. REED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NORFOLK SOUTHERN RAILWAY COMPANY, A VIRGINIA CORPORATION, D/B/A NORFOLK SOUTHERN RAILWAY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman

Memorandum Opinion and Order

Justin D. Reed ("Reed") alleges that Norfolk Southern Railway Company ("Norfolk") violated the Federal Rail Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. § 20101 et seq. ("FRSA"), by discharging him in retaliation for reporting a workplace injury. Norfolk moves for summary judgment, arguing that due to the FRSA's Election of Remedies provision, 49 U.S.C. § 20109(f), Reed is barred from seeking relief under the FRSA because Reed already elected to pursue a remedy under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. ("RLA"), another provision of law. For the reasons stated herein, this Court denies NORFOLK's motion for summary judgment.

Background

Unless otherwise noted, the following relevant facts are undisputed. Reed has been a Trackman for Norfolk since June 20, 2005. (Defendants' Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts, Dkt. 22 at ¶ 7). As a Trackman, Reed is represented by the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division/International Brotherhood of Teamsters ("the union"). (Id.). The system for disciplining employees under the collective bargaining agreement, entered into by Norfolk and the union, required that Norfolk must first send the employee a charge letter notifying the employee of the alleged rule violation and instructing the employee to appear at an investigative hearing conducted by an Norfolk officer. (Dkt. 22 at ¶ 5). The hearing occurs regardless of whether the employee appears. (Kerby Supp. Decl., Dkt. 34-1 at ¶ 5). If that hearing results in an adverse disciplinary decision, the employee may appeal to the highest designated Norfolk officer. (Dkt. 22 at ¶ 5). The matter may then be appealed to an arbitration board established under Section 3 of the RLA for a final and binding decision. (Id.). While the RLA creates these boards, they may interpret only the collective bargaining agreement and not public law. 45 U.S.C. 153 First*fn1 ; See e.g., Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 53, 94 S. Ct. 1011, 1022, 39 L. Ed. 2d 147 (1974) ("An arbitrator's source of authority is the collective-bargaining agreement. . . . The arbitrator, however, has no general authority to invoke public laws . . . .").

In February of 2010, Reed received notice to attend an investigation to determine his responsibility for violating a Norfolk safety rule. (Dkt. 22 at ¶ 8). The result of that investigation was Reed's termination, after it was determined that he had violated the Norfolk code of conduct by making false and inconsistent statements in a report regarding an on-duty injury. (Dkt. 22 at ¶ 8, 9). Reed appealed to the highest Norfolk officer designated to handle such matters, as was his right under RLA § 3 First (i). (Dkt. 22 at ¶ 10). His appeal was denied. (Id.). Reed then appealed to a Public Law Board alleging that his dismissal was arbitrary, based on unproven charges, and in violation of the collective bargaining agreement entered into between the union and Norfolk. (Dkt. 22 at ¶¶ 4, 11). The Public Law Board ultimately reinstated Reed, but without back pay, concluding that Reed's actions did not constitute grounds for dismissal. (Dkt. 34-1, Ex. B, p. 3).

However, prior to the decision of the Public Law Board, Reed filed an administrative claim with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA"), alleging that his discharge by Norfolk violated § 20109 of the FRSA. (Dkt. 22 at ¶ 15). The relevant provision of the FRSA prohibits a rail carrier from discharging an employee for notifying the carrier of a work-related injury. 49 U.S.C. § 20109(a)(4). Reed then gave notice of his intention to exercise his right to file a de novo action in this court. (Dkt. 22 at ¶ 16).

Legal Standard

A party is entitled to summary judgment if all of "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. When considering a summary judgment motion, the Court construes the facts and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Abdullahi v. City of Madison, 423 F.3d 763, 773 (7th Cir.2005). A genuine issue of material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Serednyj v. Beverly Healthcare, LLC, 656 F.3d 540, 547 (7th Cir.2011).

Discussion

On summary judgment, Norfolk argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the election of Remedies provision of the FRSA bars Reeds claim. Reed counters that, while the arbitration procedures are created under the RLA, it is ultimately the collective bargaining agreement that provides the substantive rights. Therefore, according to Reed, he can pursue his claim here because the collective bargaining agreement is not "another provision of law" within the meaning of the FRSA.

Resolution of the issue before the Court requires determination of the meaning of the FRSA's Election of Remedies provision. Therefore, the Court will begin by reviewing the statutory background.

Railway Labor Act

The Railway Labor Act of 1926 governs relations between railroad carriers and their employees, and mandates creation of collective bargaining agreements to establish rates of pay, rules, and working conditions, and to settle all disputes in a way that avoids interruption to commerce or the operation of the carrier. See 45 U.S.C. ยง 152 First. Section 3 of the RLA establishes a framework for resolving disputes between an employee and carrier over the interpretation of such agreements; first through the grievance procedure in the collective bargaining agreement, and then through mandatory arbitration before the National Railroad Adjustment Board or a special board of adjustment established by the railroad carrier and the union. 45 ...


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