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PEASE v. PRODUCTION WORKERS UNION OF CHICAGO

March 12, 2004.

Christopher Pease, Willard Berge, and Mike Gear, Plaintiffs,
v.
Production Workers Union of Chicago and Vicinity Local 707, Randall Industries, Inc., and Randall Rents of Indiana, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES HOLDERMAN, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On January 15, 2004, a jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff Willard Berge ("Berge") and against defendants Randall Industries, Inc. and Randall Rents of Indiana (collectively "Randall") and Production Workers Union of Chicago and Vicinity Local 707 ("Local 707") on his claim that Randall violated the seniority provisions of the collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") by terminating him instead of another employee with less job classification seniority and that Local 707 breached its duty of fair representation. By special verdict, the jury found that Randall had violated the seniority provisions of the CBA and that Local 707 had acted in bad faith in failing to represent Berge. (Berge Claim One Verdict Form.) The jury awarded Berge $9,061.76 in damages, allocated evenly between Randall and Local 707. (Berge Damages Verdict Form at 2.) In addition, the jury returned a verdict in favor of defendants on Berge's claim that Randall terminated its employment Page 2 of him because of his support for International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150 ("Local 150") in violation of the CBA and that Local 707 breached its duty of fair representation. The jury also found in favor of defendants with respect to each of the claims of plaintiffs Christopher Pease ("Pease") and Mike Gear ("Gear"). On January 26, 2004, Local 707 filed a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law and alternative request for a new trial. On January 27, 2004, Randall filed a similar motion. For the following reasons, the motions for judgment as a matter of law are granted.

STATEMENT OF FACTS*fn1

  Berge worked as a truck driver at the Randall Rents facility in Portage, Indiana from about August 30, 2001, to May 15, 2002. At that time, Roy Walker ("Walker") and Gear were truck drivers with greater seniority than Berge. All three of these Randall employees, Berge, Gear, and Walker, were covered by the CBA between Randall and Local 707. After training Berge, in October 2001, Walker moved to the rental coordinator position at Randall, a non — bargaining unit position. (Tr. at 596, 646-47.) In May 2002, Randall moved Walker back to the bargaining unit truck driver position and terminated Berge. (Tr. at 489, 596.)

  Berge then filed a grievance claiming that Randall violated Article XIII of the CBA when it terminated him instead of Roy Walker. The grievance did not proceed to arbitration. The evidence at trial showed that Local 707 did not assist Berge in writing his grievance (Tr. at 427-28) and that Berge was mocked and called "Mr. 150" (Tr. at 358). Page 3

  In effect from June 1, 1999, through May 31, 2002, the CBA between Randall and Local 707 contained the following provision, in relevant part, regarding seniority:
ARTICLE XIII — SENIORITY & BIDS
Job classification seniority will operate for all promotions, layoffs, re-employment, the selection of shifts, overtime work and vacation, provided that the individual can perform the available job in a reasonably satisfactory manner. An employee loses all seniority after having been laid off for twelve (12) consecutive months.
The CBA did not include a zipper clause or other similar provision that would limit the parties' ability to modify or amend the CBA. Moreover, the CBA did not contain an integration clause limiting the CBA to its express, written terms.

  The evidence at trial established that Walker approached Randall about moving to a sales position at Randall. (Tr. at 569, 646.) After discussing the matter, the parties agreed that Walker would move into the rental coordinator position, a non — bargaining unit position. (Tr. at 646-47.) Kerry Orrock, the manager at Randall Rents of Indiana, testified that upon moving to the new position, "the situation was that if it didn't work out for the company or [Walker] didn't like it, he could always go back to being a driver." (Tr. at 647.) In addition, Randy Truckenbrodt, the owner of Randall Industries, testified that it was the practice at Randall to allow an employee the opportunity to return to a prior position after accepting a new position. (Tr. at 491-92.) When Walker was transferred to the rental coordinator position, he was not covered by the CBA. (Tr. at 435, 596, 651.) In addition, during his time as rental coordinator, union dues were not withheld from Walker's paycheck. (Tr. at 597-98.)

  Furthermore, Chuck Truckenbrodt ("C. Truckenbrodt"), Randall's day-to-day administrative officer, prior to transferring Walker to the non-bargaining unit rental coordinator position, spoke Page 4 with Local 707 business agent and organizer Edgar Roman ("Roman") regarding the impact of such a transfer on Walker's seniority. (Tr. at 570, 635-36.) C. Truckenbrodt testified that Roman said, regarding the transfer, that "we treat it the same way we treat a layoff. You're away from your work for up to a year, you get to retain your — as if it was a layoff. You're not available for your work now, and you retain your seniority if you go back, just as if you were called back." (Tr. at 635-36.) Based on this conversation with Roman, when Walker returned to the driver position in May 2002, Randall and Local 707 concluded that Walker had retained his seniority within the driver job classification because he had been in the rental coordinator position for less than one year. As such, in May 2002, when Walker returned to the truck driver position, he was more senior than Berge. At that time, Randall needed only two truck drivers, and of the three truck drivers, Berge, Gear, and Walker, Berge was the least senior driver. Consequently, Randall terminated Berge.

  Randall argues in its renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law that the jury's verdict was contrary to the undisputed evidence that Walker was laid off within the meaning of the CBA and therefore retained his seniority within the truck driver job classification. Local 707 contends that the evidence does not support the jury's finding of bad faith. These arguments will be addressed below.

  STANDARD OF REVIEW

  Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50, this court should render judgment as a matter of law when "a party has been fully heard on an issue and there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for that party on that issue. . . ." FED. R. CIV. P. 50(a)(1). As the Supreme Court has made clear, "the standard for granting summary judgment `mirrors' the standard for judgment as a matter of law, such that `the inquiry under each is the same.'" Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc.. 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000) (citations omitted). Thus, this court Page 5 should review all of the evidence in the record and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, here Berge. Moreover, this court may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Id. Finally, and particularly important in this case, this "court should give credence to the evidence favoring the nonmovant as well as that `evidence supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached, at least to the extent that that evidence conies from disinterested witnesses.'" Id. at 151 (citation omitted). In interpreting this directive from the Supreme Court in Reeves, the Seventh Circuit has held that the uncontroverted testimony of a company employee must be given credence. Traylor v. Brown, 295 F.3d 783, 791 (7th Cir. 2002). The court pointed out that to hold otherwise "would essentially prevent any employer from prevailing at the summary judgment [or judgment as a matter of law] stage because an employer will almost always have to rely on the testimony of one of its agents to explain why the agent took the disputed action." Id.

  ANALYSIS

  Berge, along with the other plaintiffs, filed what is commonly known as a hybrid suit against the defendants. As the Supreme Court has held, "[t]o prevail against either the company or the Union, . . . [Berge] must not only show that [his] discharge was contrary to the contract but must also carry the burden of demonstrating a breach of duty by the Union." DelCostello v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 165 (1983). In other words, to prevail on his hybrid claim, Berge must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Randall breached the CBA and that Local 707 breached its duty of fair representation. McLeod v. Arrow Marine Transp., Inc., 258 F.3d 608, 613 (7th Cir. 2001). A union breaches the duty of fair representation only if its actions are arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith. Neal v. Newspaper Holdings, Inc., 349 ...


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