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Mallick v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers

decided: February 23, 1981.



Before Adams, Garth and Sloviter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Adams


This appeal presents an amalgam of issues under the union members' Bill of Rights section of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, commonly known as the Landrum-Griffin Act, 29 U.S.C. § 411 (1976). Plaintiffs John Mallick and Billy Chadwick, members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, (IBEW), filed a suit claiming that Local Union 712, its business manager, Edwin Hill, and the parent International Union violated rights protected by § 411 by bringing disciplinary charges and imposing fines against them under allegedly invalid provisions of the International Union Constitution. A jury returned a verdict against the Local Union and awarded punitive damages to Mallick and compensatory and punitive damages to Chadwick. However, the trial judge vacated the punitive damages awards in response to a motion brought by the Local Union for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. He also declined to grant injunctive and declaratory relief that had been requested by the plaintiffs. It is from these rulings that Mallick and Chadwick appeal.

I. Background

Mallick and Chadwick were vocal and persistent critics of the IBEW leadership, and focused special attention on the administration of the union pension and welfare fund. They were active participants in an organization known as B.E.E., the Brotherhood of Electrical Employees, which was formed to improve conditions for rank and file workers within the union. In addition to publishing articles critical of the union in the B.E.E. newsletter, plaintiffs wrote to the Department of Labor and a Congressman alleging improprieties in the handling of the pension fund, brought a lawsuit concerning the fund, filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board relating to unfair employment practices by the union, and told their tales of mismanagement and inequitable treatment to local news reporters. When the Department of Labor eventually instituted legal action against the pension fund, the plaintiffs posted copies of the court papers in the union hiring hall. Mallick and Chadwick allege that in retaliation for these dissident activities they received far less desirable job assignments than other workers.

On October 21, 1976, Hill, the business manager of Local 712, initiated disciplinary charges against Mallick and Chadwick, claiming that their actions violated several provisions of the Union Constitution. The conduct specified in the charges included giving interviews to newspapers, during which Mallick and Chadwick made allegedly slanderous statements, participating in B.E.E., which entailed criticizing the IBEW, and posting in the hiring hall newspaper articles critical of the union leadership.*fn1 A trial board of the Local Union found Mallick guilty of violating seven provisions of the Union Constitution, and fined him $3,200.*fn2 It penalized Chadwick for four violations and fined him $2,000.*fn3

In January and February of 1977, Hill preferred one additional charge each against Chadwick and Mallick. Chadwick was then adjudged guilty of violating Article 27, Section 1, Subsection 13, by "creating or participating in a disturbance ... in or around the office or headquarters of a labor union," when he posted a copy of the Labor Department lawsuit in the hiring hall. For this, the trial board fined him an additional $350. The board found that when Mallick filed charges with the NLRB, he transgressed Subsection 1, which requires a member to exhaust internal union remedies before seeking court redress. Mallick was assessed a fine of $150 for this violation.

Mallick and Chadwick appealed to the International Union from all of the penalties imposed against them. The International representative who considered the appeals set most of the charges aside, concluding that some were not drawn with sufficient particularity*fn4 or not supported by sufficient evidence.*fn5 On the charge against Mallick for failing to exhaust internal remedies, the International representative sustained the guilty finding but rescinded the monetary fine on the ground that federal law did not appear to permit such a penalty. The International representative also vacated the fines assessed against both Mallick and Chadwick under Subsection 3, which generally enables the union to punish members for violating any constitutional provision. As the International representative interpreted Subsection 3, it did not authorize penalties in addition to those imposed under the other substantive sections.

The International representative then overturned two of the charges against Mallick, because he found them to be inconsistent with federal law. The first involved Subsection 8, under which Mallick was charged with "making false statements ... to public officials ... which contain untruths about, or which misrepresent a local union." The conduct giving rise to this charge consisted of statements Mallick sent to the NLRB when he filed charges with that agency. The Landrum-Griffin Act protects the right of union members to sue or to file administrative charges against a union, 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(4), and § 609 of the Act prohibits labor organizations from disciplining members for exercising any § 411 right. 29 U.S.C. § 529. Accordingly, the International representative found that the Subsection 8 charge "flies in the face of Federal law." The second charge was based on Subsection 14, which prohibits divulging union business to persons not entitled to such information. In dismissing this charge as incompatible with federal law, the representative narrowly interpreted the scope of Subsection 14 so as to reconcile this provision with the Landrum-Griffin Act. Mallick's action that gave rise to a charge under Subsection 14 was an interview he gave to the press, during which he discussed the Labor Department investigation of Local 712. Noting that Mallick enjoyed a federally guaranteed right to speak to the press, the International representative concluded that making public information available to the news media did not fall within Subsection 14's prohibition, and dismissed this charge as well as the fine based upon it.

Mallick and Chadwick then brought this lawsuit, seeking legal and equitable relief against the defendants under the Landrum-Griffin Act. They claimed that the disciplinary charges were illegal because they sought to punish conduct that was protected by the Act. In addition to compensatory and punitive damages, Mallick and Chadwick sought declaratory and injunctive relief barring further enforcement of the allegedly illegal provisions of the union constitution that had been invoked by Local 712.

A jury trial was held to resolve the claims for damages. At the close of plaintiffs' case Local 712 and Hill moved for a directed verdict, maintaining that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding of punitive damages.*fn6 The trial judge denied the motion, explaining that although it was his "visceral reaction" that punitive damages were not warranted, he preferred to let the jury decide the matter. Defendants then presented their case; counsel submitted requests for charge; and the court discussed the jury instructions with counsel. The defendants never renewed their motion for a directed verdict at any time before the case went to the jury. After the jury returned a verdict against Local 712, awarding Mallick $5,000 in punitive damages and Chadwick $1,000 in punitive damages and $4,000 in compensatory damages, Local 712 moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (n. o. v.). The judge granted the motion in part, striking the punitive damage awards but leaving undisturbed the award of compensatory damages to Chadwick.

Ruling on the equitable aspects of the case, the district court concluded that plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the charges that had been dismissed or overruled by the International. It posited that plaintiffs had not suffered actual harm because no monetary penalty or determination of guilt had been finally imposed, and they had not alleged any threat of future harm from additional charges. Consequently, the district court considered the validity of only the provisions of the union constitution that formed the basis for charges sustained by the International. Rejecting plaintiff's challenge to Subsection 1, which required exhaustion of internal union remedies, the trial judge applied the factors set forth by this Court in Semancik v. United Mine Workers District No. 5, 466 F.2d 144 (3d Cir. 1972), and concluded that it was appropriate in this instance to require exhaustion because the union's internal appeals process was adequate to protect plaintiffs.

The district court also declined to overturn the penalty assessed against Chadwick for "creating or participating in a disturbance" in violation of Subsection 13. Interpreting this provision as compatible with a union's right to prescribe reasonable rules of conduct to protect the performance of its contractual obligations, 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(2), the judge determined that it described sufficiently specific activity to withstand a challenge on grounds of vagueness. He also observed that Chadwick's action that led to an altercation with Hill posting a copy of the Labor Department lawsuit was undisputed, and he therefore sustained the finding of guilty. The trial judge employed a similar rationale in ruling that the guilty finding, without fines, under Subsection 3 did not constitute improper disciplinary action ...

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