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RILEY v. EMPIRE AIRLINES

June 17, 1993

TIMOTHY RILEY, Plaintiff,
v.
EMPIRE AIRLINES, INC., Defendant.


MUNSON


The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOWARD G. MUNSON

MEMORANDUM-DECISION & ORDER

 I. BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff Timothy Riley, formerly a pilot with defendant Empire Airlines, *fn1" brought this action against his former employer for violations of the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"), 45 U.S.C. ยงยง 151-188. Plaintiff alleged that Empire Airlines unlawfully discharged him for exercising rights protected by the RLA. Empire Airlines asserted that plaintiff was justifiably discharged based upon his involvement in several incidents reflecting an attitude deemed inappropriate for a captain in Empire Airlines.

 Following a non-jury trial, this court determined that plaintiff Riley was wrongfully discharged by Empire Airlines in violation of the RLA. Memorandum-Decision and Order filed August 27, 1991, Document ("Doc.") 57. In that decision, the court found that plaintiff's protected conduct of choosing not to support management's efforts to reach a collective bargaining agreement with the Empire Pilots' Association ("EPA") *fn2" was one of the contributing factors in his discharge. Id. at 27-31. Nonetheless, the court determined that plaintiff's discharge was not motivated by anti-union animus. Id. at 36-40. Specifically, plaintiff's RLA-protected right to support a different organization, the Air Line Pilots Association ("ALPA"), *fn3" was not a substantial or motivating factor in his discharge. Id. at 36. Based on the conclusion that plaintiff was wrongfully discharged, the court awarded damages of back pay. The court directed the clerk of the court to enter judgment in favor of plaintiff on the back pay issue, in the amount of $ 188,547.00 through June 30, 1990 and an additional $ 3,170.00 per month or $ 104.22 per day until the date final judgment is entered on all issues. Id. at 41-42.

 On September 12, 1991, at the request of the parties, this court issued an order amending the Memorandum-Decision and Order of August 27, 1991 as to the entry of judgment. See Doc. 58. *fn4" The court directed the clerk to enter one judgment at the completion of all proceedings. As part of the August 26, 1991 decision, the court had directed the parties to file supplemental briefing on the issues of reinstatement, front pay, pension benefits, and punitive and compensatory damages, and it was determined that one judgment disposing of these claims as well as the claims already decided was the desirable way to proceed. The parties have submitted a variety of supplemental post-trial briefs and letters relating to the availability and appropriateness of reinstatement, front pay, and punitive and compensatory damages on the facts of this case. The court will discuss each issue below and render its final decision pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a).

 II. DISCUSSION

 A. Reinstatement and Front Pay

 1. Reinstatement

 As a result of the court's August 27, 1991 decision, USAir consented to reinstate plaintiff with all seniority and benefits which would have accrued, had termination not occurred. Defendant's Supplemental Post-Trial Memorandum, Doc. 60, at 1. Hence, the court need not address the availability or appropriateness of reinstatement in this case. However, defendant asserts that its unconditional offer of reinstatement has an impact on plaintiff's right to front pay and also constitutes a "cut-off" date for the continuing accrual of back pay damages awarded in the court's August 27, 1991 decision. Defendant's Post-Trial Letter dated December 17, 1992, Doc. 63, at 2. As authority for this proposition defendant cites NLRB v. Browne, 890 F.2d 605 (2d Cir. 1989) and Canova v. NLRB, 708 F.2d 1498 (9th Cir. 1983). Plaintiff has not responded to this argument. *fn5"

 The cited cases establish that an offer of reinstatement "must be firm, clear and unconditional" in order to be effective. Browne, 890 F.2d at 609. Specifically, "an employer may toll its back pay liability by offering reinstatement to employees improperly dismissed, but a 'full and unconditional offer of reinstatement to the employee's former position is required.'" Canova, 708 F.2d at 1505 (quoting Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Int'l Union v. NLRB, 178 U.S. App. D.C. 301, 547 F.2d 598, 601 n.3 (D.C. Cir. 1976), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1078 (1977)). Cf. Clarke v. Frank, 960 F.2d 1146, 1151 (2d Cir. 1992) (in context of Title VII action, back pay no longer accrues once employer makes unconditional offer to reinstate and employee rejects the offer). There is no question in the case at bar that defendant's offer of reinstatement contained in its Supplemental Post-Trial Memorandum is firm, clear, and unconditional. Doc. 60, at 1. Not only did defendant unequivocally offer to reinstate plaintiff, but it also included in the offer all seniority and benefits which would have accrued had plaintiff not been terminated, less any appropriate credits. Id. Although plaintiff responded to other points contained in defendant's Supplemental Post-Trial Memorandum by letter to the court dated November 4, 1991, see Doc. 61, plaintiff did not address defendant's offer of reinstatement. *fn6" This lack of express response, coupled with the fact that plaintiff is currently employed with another entity, lead the court to conclude that plaintiff has rejected defendant's offer of reinstatement. Such rejection of a valid offer precludes plaintiff from recovering further back pay damages under the principles cited in Browne, Canova, and Clarke, notwithstanding the court's ruling in its August 27, 1991 Memorandum-Decision and Order, Doc. 57, that back pay damages would continue to accrue at $ 104.22 per day until the date the final judgment in this case is entered. Thus, defendant's liability for back pay is tolled as of October 29, 1991, the date the unconditional offer of reinstatement was extended to plaintiff via the filing of defendant's post-trial submission. See Doc. 60.

 2. Front Pay

 By letter to the court dated November 4, 1991, plaintiff withdrew his request for an award of front pay. Plaintiff's Post-Trial Letter dated November 4, 1991, Doc. 61, at 1. Therefore, the court dismisses plaintiff's claim for front pay as a component of the damages sought for his wrongful termination in violation of the RLA.

 B. Punitive and Compensatory Damages

 The only remaining issues involve plaintiff's claims for punitive and compensatory damages. The task before the court is first to determine the scope of remedies available under the RLA in a wrongful discharge action by an employee against an employer, and second to determine whether any of the available remedies are appropriate in this case. Specifically, the issues remaining to be decided are: (1) whether punitive damages are available as a matter of law under the RLA; (2) whether punitive damages are appropriate in this case; (3) whether compensatory damages are available as a matter of law under the RLA; and (4) whether compensatory damages are appropriate in this case.

 1. Punitive Damages


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