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Held v. Allied Pilots Association

July 10, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert W. Gettleman


Plaintiff Robert S. Held filed a 141-paragraph, 39-page first amended pro se*fn1 complaint against defendant Allied Pilots Association ("APA"), alleging that defendant breached its duty of fair representation. Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons discussed below, the court grants defendant's motion.


Plaintiff was hired as a pilot by American Airlines ("American") in 1988. Throughout his career with American, plaintiff was a member of defendant APA, the certified collective bargaining representative of pilots employed by American. The terms of plaintiff's employment were contained in a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between American and defendant. According to plaintiff, during his time as a member of defendant, he was known as a "vocal union member and activist" who filed multiple grievances and took strong positions against defendant's political decisions.

In 1993, defendant created an electronic bulletin board entitled "Challenge and Response" ("C&R"), a password-protected online forum for members of defendant. In 1998, defendant made C&R part of its website,, but C&R remained accessible only by password. Members of defendant can access the website from computers in American's workplace, but the C&R portion of the site cannot be accessed from any computers connected to American's network as a result of an earlier grievance filed by plaintiff.

On January 21, 2005, members of defendant began a dialogue about the chairman of defendant's Appeal Board. Union members were unhappy because the chairman had complained to American about a union members' exercise of off-duty, off-premises political speech; the union members felt that the chairman should have used internal union methods for dispute resolution instead. On January 22, plaintiff emailed a message to C&R calling the union chairman, among other things, a "homosexual faggot retard," a "dyke, low life asshole," a "fag," and a "little girl." Plaintiff also stated in his posting, "I give anyone legally accessing C&R permission to repost, retransmit, or make any use of these words they see fit."

According to plaintiff, on January 24, 2005, Michael Mellerski, chair of defendant's Dallas/Fort Worth unit, sent an email to defendant's entire Board of Directors, stating that he had received an inquiry from a union member about plaintiff's C&R posting and what actions defendant intended to take. For several days, the members of the Board of Directors exchanged e-mails about plaintiff's posting. During the exchange, James Sovich, the Chairman of defendant's Boston unit, stated that defendant could not discipline plaintiff, but that defendant would assist American in doing so. Sovich also stated that he would post copies of plaintiff's posting on bulletin boards in American's workplace. On January 28, 2005, defendant produced and distributed poster-size copies of plaintiff's posting to be hung on bulletin boards in American's workplaces. During the e-mail exchange, other members of the Board of Directors compared plaintiff to Adolph Hitler and suggested that the Federal Aviation Administration should suspend plaintiff's pilot license.

According to plaintiff, on January 30, 2005, supervisory pilot Martin Reedy called John Jirschele, Director of Flight at American's base in Chicago to tell him about plaintiff's posting. Reedy then faxed plaintiff's posting to Jirschele. Sovich and James Condes, the Vice-Chairman of defendant's Chicago unit, acted as "middlemen" between Reedy and Jirschele.*fn3

On January 31, 2005, Sovich sent an official union communication via e-mail to defendant's Board of Directors entitled "Policing our own." Attached to that e-mail was plaintiff's C&R posting. Official union e-mails are available for viewing on defendant's website by all members of defendant and can be viewed and printed from computers in American's workplaces.

On February 8, 2005, Jirschele faxed plaintiff a letter that stated plaintiff was suspended from work with pay pending an investigation into whether his C&R posting violated Rule 32 of American's Rules and Regulations. Rule 32, attached to the fax, provides in pertinent part:

Behavior that violates the company's Work Environment Policy, even if intended as a joke, is absolutely prohibited and will be grounds for severe corrective action, up to and including termination of employment. This includes, but is not limited to, threatening, intimidating, interfering with, or abusive, demeaning or violent behavior toward another employee, contractor, customer, or vendor while either on or off duty. Behavior that is also hate-related will result in immediate termination of employment, regardless of length of service and prior employment record.

American's Work Environment policy defines "hate-related behavior" as:

[A]ny action or statement that suggests hatred for or hostility toward a person or group because of their race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, or other protected characteristic. This includes, but is in no way limited to, bigoted slurs, drawings, and symbols such as a hangman's noose, a swastika, or graffiti.

The suspension letter stated that plaintiff would receive a hearing and was entitled to representation by defendant ...

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