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Betts v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1220

May 24, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James B. Zagel


Plaintiff, Arthur Betts II ("Betts") has filed suit against his employer, CBS Broadcasting, Inc. ("CBS"), and his union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1220 ("Local 1220"), alleging that CBS breached certain terms of the applicable collective bargaining agreement when it discharged him, and that the IBEW breached its duty of fair representation to him. The IBEW has now filed this motion to dismiss the complaint. For the following reasons, IBEW's motion is granted.


Arthur Betts II ("Betts"), an African-American cameraman for CBS in Chicago, is a member of Local 1220, IBEW. The IBEW is the exclusive bargaining agent for Betts at WBBMTV, a CBS station. The applicable National Agreement has provisions regarding discharge for just cause, which includes unsatisfactory performance due to inability or unwillingness to perform assigned work. The agreement also contains grievance and arbitration remedies.

On September 9, 2005, Betts had a traffic accident while driving a CBS news van during work hours. CBS suspended him without pay pending an investigation. Betts filed a grievance about a week later and a grievance meeting took place on October 25. CBS fired Betts on October 27. Local 1220 demanded arbitration. Betts asked Local 1220 for legal representation at the arbitration, but was told it would be too costly. He eventually hired his own lawyer. In January, 2006, CBS and the Local agreed that neither side would have attorneys at the arbitration.

The parties held the expedited arbitration on January 23, 2006. Madeleine Monaco ("Monaco"), Local 1220's business manager, represented Betts. CBS was represented by counsel. On January 27, the arbitrator decided in writing that Betts was properly fired. The opinion noted that Betts was fired because his "reckless behavior on the road endangered the life of another employee and the public generally, as evidenced by the fact that a person in the car [Betts] struck had to be taken to a hospital by ambulance" and because of a "less than satisfactory work record," which included a disciplinary warning in July 2005.

The arbitrator also found the following: whether [Betts] fell asleep as he repeatedly stated after the collision or lost consciousness due to a medical condition as he now contends (and since he was previously aware of the symptoms) [Betts] put himself and others at risk through his inattention to duties. Here the risk was not potential. As a result of [Betts'] inattention to duties, there was physical injury and property damage . . . . [Betts] falling asleep at the wheel or passing out when [he] experienced the same symptoms in the past, but nevertheless continued to drive, with the resultant collision which caused injury and property damage constitute serious misconduct justifying the bypassing of progressive discipline.

The arbitrator believed he had no choice but to sustain the discharge and noted that "notwithstanding the strong efforts by the Union on [his] behalf, the Company's arguments prevail . . . . The grievance is denied."

Betts claims that Monaco did not "adequately and fully" represent him at the arbitration and did not specifically object to CBS's violations of the arbitration agreement.*fn1 He also alleges that, subsequent to his loss in arbitration, the Local did provide a lawyer to another technician who was not a member of a protected class and that other technicians, also represented by Local 1220, who are not African-American have not been subjected to suspension without pay or terminated for involvement in accidents with station vehicles.*fn2

The Local moves to dismiss the fair representation claim. Such claims by a member against his or her Union face some hurdles deliberately erected by Congress and the courts to support the idea of collective representation, which lies at the heart of any union enterprise. CBS also moves to dismiss the claims against it, claiming that Betts cannot sue CBS unless the union breached its duty.


A motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint, not the merits of a case. Autry v. Northwest Premium Servs., Inc., 144 F.3d 1037, 1039 (7th Cir. 1998). I should grant Defendant's motion to dismiss only if Plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). Furthermore, I must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations in the Complaint as true, drawing all reasonable inferences from those facts in Plaintiff's favor. Cleveland v. Rotman, 297 F.3d 569, 571 (7th Cir. 2002). I may grant Defendant's motion only if "no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984).


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