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Timothy Eckert v. United Automobile Workers

February 20, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Court



On July 22, 2004, Plaintiff Eckert, acting pro se, commenced this action against United Automobile Workers International Union, United Automobile Workers Local Union 897, Charles Gangarossa, Local 897's President, and Scott Adams, UAW International Representative (the UAW Defendants). The following day, July 23, 2004, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint to add Defendants Ford Motor Company, James Krywalski, Josh Korn and "Monica" (together, the Ford Defendants). Essentially, Eckert alleges that Defendants acted in concert to interfere with his rights under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"), the New York State Employment Relations Act, the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act ("LMRDA"), New York State Public Policy, his Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA"), the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), and the New York Human Rights Law ("HRL"), "among others." (Docket No. 4, ¶¶19, 29, 31.) They are alleged to have interfered with his rights by, among other things, terminating his employment prior to his medical release to return to work and thereafter failing to pursue his reinstatement.

At this juncture, all of the claims against the Ford Defendants have been dismissed (Docket No. 155)*fn1 , as has the FMLA claim against the UAW Defendants (Docket No. 52). Presently before the Court is the UAW Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment seeking dismissal of the remaining claims against them. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted and the Amended Complaint is dismissed.


A. The Undisputed Facts

The gravamen of Eckert's claims against the UAW defendants is that, after Ford terminated him in violation of the FMLA and the governing CBA, the Union Defendants violated their duty of fair representation when they declined to take his grievance to arbitration. The relevant facts are taken from the UAW's Statement of Material Facts not in Dispute, and the documents cited therein. Plaintiff's opposition to the Union's motion has been fully reviewed and considered in ascertaining the following facts.

Eckert was hired as an electrician at Ford Motor Company's Buffalo Stamping Plant on April 12, 1999, and remained employed until his discharge in November 2003. (Docket No. 176-3, "Defs' Stmt." ¶¶ 4-5.) During Eckert's tenure, Ford documented numerous instances of absence without leave, and disciplined him on multiple occasions. (Id. ¶ 9.) On Friday, October 3, 2003, Eckert went to Ford's medical department and advised that he was scheduled for surgery to repair an umbilical hernia on Monday, October 6, 2003. (Id. ¶ 11.) He did not provide any medical documentation at that time. (Docket No. 30-2 ¶ 6.) Eckert did agree to return to the Plant on October 6, 2003, before his surgery, and be seen by the Plant physician, but did not keep his scheduled appointment. (Id. ¶¶ 6-7.) Nevertheless, based on Eckert's representations, Ford authorized a two-week conditional leave, from October 6 through 20, 2003. (Id. ¶ 8.)

At that time, Eckert was a member of UAW Local 897, the exclusive collective bargaining representative for the Buffalo Plant's production and maintenance employees. (Defs' Stmt. ¶ 6.) He did not advise UAW of his upcoming surgery. (Id. ¶ 12.) The UAW is aware that Ford's standard operating procedure for an employee who leaves work for a medical reason without first providing medical documentation is to grant conditional leave for up to two weeks, during which time the employee is expected to submit satisfactory medical documentation of the need for and duration of leave. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) After the supporting medical documentation is submitted, an employee is considered to be on approved-rather than conditional-leave. (Docket No. 30-2 ¶ 9.)

On October 7, 2003, Ford's Hourly Personnel Office mailed Eckert its standard leave package including, among other things, a letter explaining the terms of his conditional leave, Ford Form 5166-"Medical Certification Form for HOURLY Employees Request for leave of Absence for Employee's Own Health Condition," and a notice of FMLA rights. (Id. ¶¶ 11-15.) Ford's FMLA notice expressly requires that an employee complete and return a medical certification form "for the initial leave or an extension, within 15 calendar days of the Company's written request," and goes on to list potential consequences of noncompliance, including termination. (Id. Ex. D.)

Eckert acknowledges receiving a package from Ford by mail in about mid-October 2003, but does not recall the documents it included. (Defs' Stmt. ¶¶ 18-21.) He does remember receiving a Ford Form 5166, but cannot recall exactly when that was. (Docket No. 176-2 "Tr. 1" at 62.) His physician completed that form and signed and dated it October 15, 2003 (Docket No. 30-2 Ex. M), but Eckert failed to return the completed form to Ford within the requisite 15-day period (Defs' Stmt. ¶ 27).

Ford and the UAW have been parties to a series of collective bargaining agreements, which govern the terms and conditions of employment for maintenance workers, such as Eckert. (Id. ¶¶ 6-7.) The relevant agreement here (the CBA), was effective September 29, 2003 through September 14, 2007. (Id. ¶ 7.) Article VIII, Section 5 of the CBA provides, in pertinent part:

Loss of Seniority

Seniority shall be broken for the following reasons: * * * * * *

4. (Failure to Report)

If the employee does not, within five (5) working days (excluding Saturndays, Sundays and Holidays) after notice to report has been sent to him/her, either report for work or give a satisfactory reason for his/her absence, unless it is not possible for him/her to comply with either of these requirements; and provided at least ten (10) working days have elapsed since his/her last day worked. * * * * * In cases where conditional or approved medical leaves of absence have expired, the Company may send a notice to report. * * * * * Disputes as to . . . the reasonableness of the employee's failure to respond to a notice where his period of absence can be justified are subject to the regular Grievance Procedure.

(Docket No. 27-3 Ex. E.)

On Friday, October 31, 2003, Ford, having heard nothing from Eckert, sent him a 5-day notice to report by certified mail, return receipt requested, stating that his conditional leave had expired on October 20, 2003 and that his "employment record will be automatically terminated with possible loss of seniority if you do not return within 5 working days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays) of the date of this letter." (Defs' Stmt. ¶ 30.) Eckert signed for the letter on November 7, 2003. (Id. ¶ 31.) He did not report to work on that date. The following Tuesday, November 11, 2003, Eckert delivered to Ford's medical department the completed Form 5166 dated October 15, 2003. (Id. ¶¶ ...

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