Argued June 26, 2013.
Employee brought action alleging that his union breached its duty of fair representation, but the district court dismissed it as untimely. We hold that the employee's claim against the union accrued when the arbitrator issued his final award, notwithstanding language in the collective bargaining agreement that such awards were subject to challenge in court by either party. Also, the limitations period was not tolled by the employee's state court action to vacate the arbitrator's award. Accordingly, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.
DAVID T. AZRIN, Gallet Dreyer & Berkey, LLP, New York, New York, for Appellant.
AMELIA K. TUMINARO, Gladstein, Reif & Meginniss, LLP, New York, New York, for Appellee.
Before: NEWMAN, WINTER and DRONEY, Circuit Judges.
Droney, Circuit Judge:
Gurumurthy Kalyanaram (" Kalyanaram" ) brought this action against his union, the American Association of University Professors at the New York Institute of Technology, Inc. (" the Union" ), alleging that it breached its duty of fair representation. The district court granted the Union's two motions for partial judgment on the pleadings and then entered judgment in favor of the Union based on those rulings. We address: (1) whether the statute of limitations on a claim that a union breached its duty of fair representation commences upon the issuance of the arbitrator's " final award," where the collective bargaining agreement provides that the arbitrator's decision shall be final and binding " subject to appeal by either party," and (2) whether a state court action to vacate the arbitration award tolls that limitations period.
The allegations in the complaint and the additional materials submitted in connection with the motions before the district court allege the following. Kalyanaram was a professor in the School of Management at the New York Institute of Technology (" NYIT" ), and a member of the Union. A number of students at NYIT's MBA program in Vancouver, Canada, sent a letter to the NYIT administration complaining of sexual harassment and racial discrimination by Kalyanaram. NYIT investigated and issued Kalyanaram a letter of termination in May 2007. NYIT issued a second termination letter in July 2007 based on complaints of misconduct by Kalyanaram submitted by students at its New York City campus.
Kalyanaram challenged his termination through arbitration, as provided for in the Union's collective bargaining agreement (" CBA" ). On August 6, 2008, the arbitrator issued an award that dismissed the most serious allegations against him concerning the Vancouver students, but held that the allegations had sufficient merit to give NYIT just cause to suspend Kalyanaram for a semester. The arbitrator scheduled a hearing for September 29, 2008 to address the New York students' allegations. However, the hearing turned to a number of anonymous emails that Kalyanaram allegedly sent criticizing the NYIT administration. When NYIT questioned him about these emails, he denied sending them. A month later, NYIT produced documents with Kalyanaram's IP addresses purporting to show that he had sent the emails from two email accounts. Another arbitral hearing was held on October 24, 2008, and the same day, NYIT issued a third termination letter based on the emails. Kalyanaram grieved this dismissal letter through the Union as well.
The arbitration culminated in a decision on August 13, 2009--entitled " Interim Award of Arbitrator" --in which the arbitrator found that there was just cause under the CBA to terminate Kalyanaram, though he would be allowed to remain on research leave for one year with full pay while seeking new employment. NYIT was also required to provide a " neutral reference" and " not disparage Professor Kalyanaram to potential employers." Kalyanaram moved to reconsider this decision, but on October 13, 2009, the arbitrator issued what was entitled a " Final Award of Arbitrator" (" Final Award" ), which adopted the August 13, 2009 award. In the Final Award, the arbitrator specifically retained the authority to implement it.
Kalyanaram then filed a petition pursuant to N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 7511 in the New York Supreme Court to vacate the Final Award. On June 2, 2010, that court denied his petition and granted NYIT's cross-motion to confirm the award. Kalyanaram appealed to the New York Supreme Court's Appellate Division, First Department, but it affirmed the trial court on December 2, 2010. Kalyanaram v. N.Y. Inst. of Tech., 79 A.D.3d 418, 913 N.Y.S.2d 159 (App.Div. 2010).
While he was contesting the Final Award in state court, Kalyanaram also made various submissions to the arbitrator challenging the manner in which NYIT had implemented the award by failing to send timely letters of reference and by mischaracterizing the circumstances of his termination. Through the period of the spring of 2010 to the spring of 2011, there was a series of requests by Kalyanaram's counsel to the arbitrator to have NYIT issue the letters of recommendation, correct mischaracterizations to potential employers of the reasons for his termination, and pay Kalyanaram the amounts ordered. Through a series of " supplemental awards," the arbitrator resolved these disputes over the references, and extended partial salary for Kalyanaram because of delays he faced in obtaining new employment due to the dispute over the reference letters.
On September 7, 2010, while Kalyanaram's petition to vacate the award was still pending in state court, he filed the instant complaint against the Union. It alleged that the Union breached its ...