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BECKMAN v. U.S. POSTAL SERVICE

January 12, 2000

MICHAEL BECKMAN, PLAINTIFF,
V.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE AND AMERICAN POSTAL WORKERS UNION — NEW YORK METRO AREA POSTAL UNION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leisure, District Judge.

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Michael Beckman brings this "hybrid" action, pursuant to section 1208(b) of the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 ("PRA"), 39 U.S.C. § 1208(b), alleging that (1) his employer, defendant United States Postal Service (the "USPS"), impermissibly transferred him from a duty assignment in violation of an existing collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"), and (2) his collective bargaining representative, defendant American Postal Workers Union — New York Metro Area Postal Union (the "Union"), breached its duty of fair representation, implied under the scheme of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 159(a), by failing to represent him fairly in redressing his grievance.*fn1 Both defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the following reasons, defendants' motions are hereby granted.

BACKGROUND*fn2

The USPS employs individuals in craft and non-craft positions. See Pendleton Decl. ¶ 2. All craft positions, including mail handler, clerk, and material handler, are unionized, see Beckman Aff. ¶ 3 n. 1; Lingberg Decl. ¶ 8, while non-craft positions are generally supervisory or management jobs at higher grade levels, see Pendleton Decl. ¶ 2; Lingberg Decl. ¶ 9. At the New Jersey International Bulk Mail Center (the "Bulk Center"),*fn3 where plaintiff was employed prior to the actions that led to this litigation, employees in maintenance craft positions work one of three shifts: Tour 1 (12:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.), Tour 2 (8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.), or Tour 3 (4:00 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.). See Beckman Dep. at 11. These employees are selected for duty assignments based upon their seniority, as calculated under the relevant collective bargaining agreement. See CBA Between Union and USPS ("CBA"), art. 38, § 5.A.3 (Pendleton Decl., Exh. G). Pursuant to the CBA, all vacant or newly-established duty assignments in the maintenance craft are to be filled by the most senior employees. See id.

Plaintiff has been an employee of the USPS since March 1975. See Beckman Aff. ¶ 3. For over nine years, he worked as mail handler in the Bulk Center. See id. He later served as a clerk for the USPS in Bayonne, New Jersey, and subsequently, from 1989 to 1991, as a material handler at the Bulk Center. See id. At all relevant times throughout his tenure in these positions, plaintiff was a member of the Union. See id.

On March 26, 1991, the USPS promoted plaintiff to the position of Supervisor of Building Services. See id. As a supervisor, Beckman was no longer a member of the Union and hence no longer subject to the terms of the Union's collective bargaining agreement with the USPS. See id.; see also Lingberg Decl. ¶ 9. Furthermore, by accepting the promotion, plaintiff switched from a craft position to a non-craft position. See Beckman Aff. ¶ 3; Lingberg Decl. ¶ 9. Under article 12 of the CBA, an employee who leaves a craft position for a non-craft position will lose all accrued seniority if he later returns to a craft position within the USPS, unless the employee returns within two years from the date he left the craft position. See CBA art. 12, § 2.B.2.

Plaintiff served as Supervisor of Building Services for two years. Unfortunately for plaintiff, however, in March 1993, the USPS underwent a restructuring, and plaintiff was informed that his new position was being eliminated. See Beckman Aff. ¶ 4. Under a program entitled "Return to Craft Incentive," plaintiff was afforded the opportunity to resume the position he held prior to becoming a supervisor. See id.*fn4 On May 6, 1993, and again on June 28, 1993, plaintiff formally requested assignment to the maintenance craft position of material handler at the Bulk Center — the same job he held from 1989 to 1991. See Beckman Dep. at 24-27; Pendleton Decl., Exh. H. The USPS evidently offered plaintiff the grade level 4 position, which had an annual salary of $33,398, plus a lump sum incentive payment of $7,136 for accepting the reassignment. See Pendleton Decl., Exh. I. On July 9, 1993, plaintiff accepted the USPS's offer, and the next day left his supervisory position for his old material handler job at the Bulk Center. See id.; Beckman Dep. at 41. In connection with his return to the material handler position, plaintiff submitted a "Maintenance Preferred Assignment Sheet" indicating his preference for various duty assignments. See Beckman Aff. ¶ 5; Pendleton Decl., Exh. K. Plaintiff was initially slotted in duty assignment number 131 ("Assignment 131"), which denotes a Tour 2 (8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) material handler work shift at the Bulk Center, with Mondays and Tuesdays off. See Beckman Aff. ¶ 6; Beckman Dep. at 38-39.

Shortly after plaintiff received this assignment, however, two of his bargaining unit cohorts approached their Union Representative, Ronald Massey, and complained that plaintiff should not have been awarded Assignment 131 ahead of them, as they were on the relevant Promotion Eligibility Register ("PER")*fn5 for a material handler position, and both had more maintenance craft seniority than plaintiff. See Massey Dep. at 29-30. Other bargaining unit members complained directly to USPS management. See Galbo Dep. at 38-40; Johnson Dep. at 36-40. Later, a union representative informed USPS management that plaintiff had improperly received his assignment due to the fact that he had lost his seniority as a consequence of his two year absence from the maintenance craft, and because there were maintenance craft employees on the relevant PER who should have been selected over plaintiff. See Massey Dep. at 34-36.

After reviewing the situation, on December 10, 1993, USPS management removed plaintiff from Assignment 131, designated him an unassigned material handler, and subsequently replaced him with John Valez-Elias. See id. at 47-48; Beckman Aff. ¶¶ 11, 14; Pendleton Decl., Exh. L. During the time he was unassigned, plaintiff retained the Assignment 131 work shift. See Pendleton Decl. ¶ 9. Plaintiff was directed to submit bids for other duty assignments, but failed to do so. See id. ¶ 9-10. As a result, as it was permitted to do under CBA art. 38, § 5.A.8, the USPS gave plaintiff the only vacant material handler duty assignment at the Bulk Center, a Tour 1 (12:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.) work shift. See id.*fn6

Plaintiff immediately complained to his Union Representative, Ronald Massey. See Beckman Aff. ¶ 12; Massey Dep. at 54-55. Thereafter, Massey referred plaintiff to Brenda Jackson, the Shop Steward, who helped him file a formal grievance. See Beckman Aff. ¶ 12. At each of the preliminary stages, plaintiff's grievance was denied, but was eventually certified for arbitration. See id. The hearing was scheduled for December 12, 1995. See Beckman Aff. ¶ 13.

Yet, to plaintiff's chagrin, the Union elected to withdraw the grievance prior to the date of the arbitration hearing. Massey explained that the Union's decision was based on its evaluation of the merits of the case and its conclusion that plaintiff would be unable to prevail, given the provision in the CBA that eliminated his seniority. See Massey Dep. at 72-73; Beckman Aff., Exh. H. Plaintiff appeared before the arbitrator on December 12, 1995, but was allegedly informed at that point by another Union Representative, Charles Bembry, that the grievance had been withdrawn due to a "conflict of interest." Beckman Aff. ¶ 13.

Although the USPS initially permitted plaintiff to continue working on Tour 2, even after his grievance had been withdrawn, see Beckman Dep. at 69; Massey Dep. at 106, 117-18, plaintiff was eventually switched to the Tour 1 night shift in April 1996. Plaintiff asserts that the shift switch has caused him substantial mental anguish and distress, including depression and other physical symptoms. See Beckman Aff. ¶ 15 & Exh. I. On May 1, 1996, plaintiff initiated the instant action. Plaintiff served an Amended Complaint on June 10, 1996, alleging a "hybrid" cause of action against the USPS and the Union. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9-16. Following the close of discovery, both defendants moved for summary judgment.

DISCUSSION

I. Standard for Summary Judgment

A moving party is entitled to summary judgment if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Holt v. KMI-Continental, Inc., 95 F.3d 123, 128 (2d Cir. 1996). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue of material fact exists. See Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970); Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs. L.P., 22 F.3d 1219, 1223-24 (2d Cir. 1994). "In moving for summary judgment against a party who will bear the ultimate burden of proof at trial, the ...


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