United States District Court, Southern District of New York
March 28, 2003
NEW YORK METRO AREA POSTAL UNION ET. AL, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED PLAINTIFFS,
JOHN E. POTTER, POSTMASTER-GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Laura Taylor Swain, United States District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs New York Metro Area Postal Union ("Metro Union"), Jeffrey A. Steinhardt, Benjamin Casado, Kenneth J. Boyce, Carmen Jackson, and Bobbie Halliburton (collectively, "Plaintiffs") bring this putative class action against defendant John B. Potter, Postmaster-General of the United States, ("Defendant"), alleging that certain actions or inactions of the United States Postal Services (USPS) violated the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq., ("FMLA"). Plaintiffs now move pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) to amend their complaint to add two individuals, Christian Valyo and Freddie Ho, and two unions, Local 51, American Postal Workers Union ("Local 51") and Local 522, American Postal Workers Union ("Local 522" and, together with Local 51, the "Local Unions"). Defendant opposes Plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint to the extent Plaintiffs seek to add Local 51 and Local 522, and Defendant moves for dismissal of the complaint as to plaintiff Metro Union, pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
The Court has considered thoroughly all submissions and arguments related to these motions. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint is denied in part and Defendant's motion for partial dismissal is granted.
In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the Court is obliged to take as true the facts as alleged in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Grandon v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 147 F.3d 184, 188 (2d Cir. 1998). The following factual recitation draws on the allegations of the complaint, which are taken as true.
Plaintiff Metro Union is a labor organization which is and has been at all relevant times the duly authorized collective bargaining representative of certain non-management employees of the USPS. (Compl. ¶ 3.) Plaintiffs Jeffrey A. Steinhardt, Benjamin Casado, Kenneth J. Boyce, Carmen Jackson, and Bobbie Halliburton are and have been at all relevant times employees of defendant USPS. (Id. ¶¶ 4-8.) Defendant is the Chief Executive Officer of the USPS and is sued in his official capacity. (Id. ¶ 9.) Metro Union brings this claim as a proposed class action pursuant to Rule 23. (Id. ¶ 10.) The proposed class represented by Metro Union "consists of current and former employees of the USPS who are or were represented by New York Metro for collective bargaining purposes and who, within three years preceding the filing of this Complaint, were eligible for FMLA leaves and have been or are being denied FMLA rights, and/or whose FMLA rights, protections and other benefits were impaired or interfered with the USPS through the adoption of unlawful policies, practices and procedures that have class-wide application and effect. . . ." (Id.)
Plaintiffs allege that the USPS has been on notice of and subject to the obligations imposed by the FMLA to provide notice to its employees of their rights and entitlements to FMLA benefits and protections, and to afford leaves and other benefits provided by the FMLA. (Id. at 18.) Plaintiffs assert that "[d]espite the USPS' awareness of these statutory obligations, it has failed (a) to post conspicuous and prominent notices explaining the FMLA and its enforcement procedures to their employees, (b) to include information about the FMLA's rights and protections in employee handbooks explaining personnel policies and procedures, and (c) to provide employees with legible, easily readable and understandable explanations of their FMLA rights, in violation of the FMLA, 29 U.S.C. § 2619 (a), and the Department of Labor's implementing regulations, 29 C.F.R. § 825.300 and 825.301." (Id.) Plaintiffs further assert that "[a]s a direct result of the USPS' failure to provide the notice required by the FMLA, Plaintiffs have been deprived of information regarding their rights to leave and other benefits provided by the FMLA, have been denied FMLA leave and other benefits and protections, and have had various adverse employment actions taken against them in violation of the FMLA." (Id. at 19.)
In their proposed amended complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Metro Union and the Local Unions (collectively, "Union Plaintiffs") are the collective bargaining representatives of certain employees of the USPS and bring this action in their representative capacities to obtain appropriate declaratory and injunctive relief for their represented employees. According to the proposed amended complaint, the individual plaintiffs seek relief for the harm caused them by the willful actions of the USPS which have denied them leave and other protections guaranteed by the FMLA and/or have caused them to be discriminated against for exercising their rights under the FMLA.
Defendant argues that Metro Union's claims should be dismissed for lack of standing and failure to state a claim, and that the motion to amend should be denied to the extent Plaintiffs seek to add the Local Unions as plaintiffs. Defendant argues that the Union Plaintiffs lack standing to sue under FMLA because they are not eligible individual employees. Plaintiffs in turn assert that Metro Union has standing as an association, pursuant to Article III of the United States Constitution, to bring this action.
The FMLA expressly provides a private right of action thereunder only to an "eligible employee," as that term is defined by the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). 29 U.S.C.A. §§ 2611(3), 2617(a) (West 1999). The ELSA defines an employee as "any individual employed by an employer." 29 U.S.C.A. § 203(e)(1) (West 1998). The FMLA further defines an "eligible employee" as an employee who has been employed for at least 12 months and has worked at least 1250 hours during the 12-month period preceding the leave. See 29 U.S.C.A. § 2611(2) (West 1999).
The Union Plaintiffs clearly are not "eligible employees" within the meaning of the statute. Thus, this Court lacks the statutory power to adjudicate the Union Plaintiffs' claims in this action because only eligible employees have a right of action under FMLA. See Local 100, Serv. Employees Int'l Union. AFL-CIO v. Integrated Health Services., 96 F. Supp.2d 537 (M.D. La. May 23, 2000), vacated on other grounds, No. 99-581-C-M2, 2000 U.S. Dist. Lexis 16697 (M.D. La. 2000). In Integrated Health Services, which is apparently the only reported decision on this issue in the FMLA context, the Court held that "the definition of an employee under the FLSA, which is the same as that under the FMLA, does not empower a union or labor organization to sue on behalf of its members for violations of FLSA,"*fn1 reasoning that "the corresponding definitions of employee in both ELSA and FMLA would seem to similarly preclude unions from those empowered to sue under the FMLA. In enacting the FMLA, `the legislative history reveals that Congress. . . was aware of the breadth of the ELSA definition [of employee] and purposely chose to adopt that definition.'" Integrated Health Services, 96 F. Supp.2d at 539 (quoting Duckworth v. Pratt & Whitney, Inc., 152 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir. 1998)). This Court finds persuasive the reasoning of the Integrated Health Services Court. Indeed, "[t]he Courts that have considered this issue [in the FLSA context] have generally held that unions lack standing to bring representative suits on behalf of their members under FLSA." United Food, 207 F.3d at 1198; see DeBraska v. City of Milwaukee, 11 F. Supp.2d 1020, 1022-24 (E.D. Wis. 1998), rev'd on other grounds, 189 F.3d 650 (7th Cir. 1999); OTR Drivers v. Frito Lay. Inc., 160 F.R.D. 146, 149 (D. Kan. 1995); Int'l Ass'n of Firefighters, Local 349 v. City of Rome, 682 F. Supp. 522, 533-34 (N.D.Ga. 1988).
Plaintiffs assert that Metro Union and the proposed Union Plaintiffs have standing under Article III of the Constitution to bring this action in their representative capacity as voluntary associations. (Pls. Mem. in Further Supp. at 8). This argument fails because, even if the Union Plaintiffs met the relevant test for associational standing, the relevant statutory language nonetheless precludes the Union Plaintiffs from asserting FMLA claims in a representative capacity. Furthermore, Union Plaintiffs' claims do not satisfy the three-part associational standing test enunciated by the Supreme Court in Hunt v. Washington Apple Advertising Commission, 432 U.S. 333, 343 (1977). Under this test, an organization has associational standing to sue in its own right if it can demonstrate that "(a) its members would otherwise have standing to sue in their own right; (b) the interests it seeks to protect are germane to the organization's purpose; and (c) neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires the participation of individual members in the lawsuit." Id.
The Union Plaintiffs' claims fail to meet the third prong of the Hunt test because testimony and evidence concerning individual USPS employees would be necessary to prove many, if not all, of the claims asserted by Union Plaintiffs. Union Plaintiffs would need to rely on evidence from individual employees to prove their claims of disparate treatment, including wrongful denials of promotions and transfers based on application of the challenged absence policy (Proposed Amend. Compl. ¶ 26), claims that "otherwise eligible employees" are unfairly denied FMLA leave because they provide somewhat imperfect or incomplete information about their mental condition (Id. ¶¶ 32-33), and claims that "otherwise eligible employees" with certain chronic serious health conditions are treated differently from USPS employees with other types of serious health conditions seeking FMLA leave (Id. ¶¶ 41-43). As to such claims "whatever injury might have been suffered is peculiar to the individual member concerned, and both the fact and extent of injury would require individualized proof." Int'l Union. United Auto., Aerospace and Agr. Implement Workers of America v. Brock, 477 U.S. 274, 282 (1986) (quoting Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975)).
For the foregoing reasons, Defendants' motion to dismiss the claims of Metro Union is granted. Plaintiffs' application to file an amended complaint is denied as Plaintiffs seeks to join the Local Unions as parties plaintiff. As the Second Circuit has noted, "[a]lthough leave to amend is usually freely granted, it may be denied within the trial court's discretion where the proposed amendent would be futile." Marchi v. Bd. of Coop. Educ. Servs., 173 F.3d 469, 477-78 (2d Cir. 1999) (upholding denial of leave to amend). Here, it would be futile for Plaintiffs to add two new union plaintiffs, as this Court has already concluded that these proposed Union Plaintiffs do not have standing to sue in this action.
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint is denied to the extent Plaintiffs seek to add union plaintiffs Local 51 and Local 522 and is granted in all other respects. Defendant's motion to dismiss the claims of plaintiff Metro Union is granted. Plaintiffs shall file and serve an amended complaint by April 18, 2003. An interim pre-trial conference will be held on May 9, 2003 at 12:00 p.m.
IT IS SO ORDERED.