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BELLESFIELD v. RCA COMMUNS.

November 23, 1987

Michael W. Bellesfield, Plaintiff,
v.
RCA Communications, Inc. and American Communications Association, Local 10, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BARRY

 I. Introduction

 Plaintiff Richard Bellesfield ("Bellesfield") was hired by defendant RCA Communications, Inc. ("RCA") as a permanent technician in September 1984. In that position Bellesfield was represented by defendant Local 10, American Communications Association ("Local 10" or "Union").

 On May 6, 1986, Richard Hanf ("Hanf"), a shop steward for the Union and one of Bellesfield's co-workers, reported to supervisor James Evans ("Evans") that earlier that morning Bellesfield had physically assaulted him and threatened to burn down his house, blow up his car, and kill him and his wife. Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment at 3 (hereinafter "Bellesfield Br."). Approximately two hours after the incident allegedly took place, Evans met with Bellesfield to discuss the allegations. Evans Dep. 8:25-9:12. According to Evans, Bellesfield said that the pressure resulting from the incident was such that he felt "the best course of action was to resign." Id. Evans then told plaintiff that a resignation would appear to be an admission of guilt, and so advised against it. Id. (Bellesfield does not recall this conversation taking place. Bellesfield Dep. 60:11-20.)

 The following morning, Bellesfield and Evans met again. Evans, having spoken with the RCA management (in particular, with Edwin Hill ("Hill"), Manager, Compensation and Labor Relations), presented Bellesfield with two options: indefinite suspension pending investigation of the alleged incident, or termination. Bellesfield Dep. 61:17-21. Bellesfield at that point tendered his resignation to Evans. Id. 64:21-24.

 There is some dispute as to whether the resignation offered and accepted on May 7, 1986 was voluntary or not. Hill confirmed RCA's acceptance of the resignation by letter to Bellesfield, dated May 7, 1986, in which Hill called the resignation "voluntary." Parliman Aff., Tab 5; Bellesfield Dep. 65:10-19. Bellesfield claims to have written Hill the following week, on May 13, 1986, to inform RCA that the resignation, "although voluntary, . . . was certainly not with my full will." Parliman Aff., Tab 6; Bellesfield Dep. 67:15-24. The letter is unsigned, and although Bellesfield claims to have mailed it, Hill asserts that he never received any such letter. RCA Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment at 6 n.1 (hereinafter "RCA Br."). It is undisputed that Bellesfield neither requested that any Union representative be present at the May 6 or May 7 meetings with Evans, Bellesfield Dep. 61:11-16, nor informed the Union of his decision to resign. Id. at 65:20-22.

 On June 25, 1986, Bellesfield wrote the Union to inform it of his desire to grieve his termination of employment. Parliman Aff., Tab 12. This was the first time that Bellesfield had informed anyone at the Union that he believed his resignation to be other than fully voluntary. Bellesfield Dep. 73:25-74:3. After receiving the letter, Joseph Foy ("Foy"), the Secretary-Treasurer of Local 10, contacted Richard Ford, plaintiff's shop steward. Ford informed Foy that he believed Bellesfield's resignation to have been voluntary. Foy Dep. 9:23-10:20; Local 10 Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment at 6 (hereinafter "Union Br."). On August 25, 1986, Foy wrote to Hill, requesting a "clarification" as to the circumstances surrounding the resignation. Parliman Aff., Tab 10. On September 16, 1986, Hill wrote back to Foy, indicating that RCA had not received any response from Bellesfield to Hill's letter of May 7, and thus that RCA had no reason to doubt its initial determination that the resignation was voluntary. Parliman Aff., Tab 11. Meanwhile, on September 2, 1986, Bellesfield was convicted of simple assault concerning the events of May 6th following trial in municipal court.

 It appears that no further action was taken by Local 10 prior to November 5, 1986, when Bellesfield commenced an action in this court under § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185. In his complaint, Bellesfield alleges both that the Union breached its duty to fairly represent him in pursuing the grievance procedure, and that RCA breached the collective bargaining agreement by in effect terminating plaintiff's employment without just cause. On December 18, 1986, Foy wrote to Bellesfield that a grievance meeting was to be held among Bellesfield, the Union, and RCA. Prior to the meeting, Foy and another Union official met with Bellesfield for fifteen minutes to discuss his case; plaintiff admits that at that time he did not present any new evidence in support of his claim. Bellesfield Dep. 187:25-188:17. At the meeting, conducted on January 28, 1987, Bellesfield had an opportunity to make a presentation on his own behalf. Id. 79:25-80:3. Upon the conclusion of the meeting, RCA denied the grievance and maintained its position that plaintiff's resignation had been voluntary. Id. 187:11-13.

 On February 3, 1987, plaintiff's attorney formally requested that Bellesfield's termination be arbitrated. Parliman Aff., Tab 8. In his response a week later, Foy reiterated the Union's request that Bellesfield provide it with any additional information he might have concerning his termination, noting that "without such information, it is my judgment that it would be very difficult to prevail at arbitration and that I would so advise the Union." Parliman Aff., Tab 9. No further information concerning the resignation has been forwarded by Bellesfield to the Union. Bellesfield Dep. 191:12-192:4.

 In the motions before me, the Union and RCA seek to have summary judgment entered on their behalf, asserting that plaintiff has failed to place sufficient facts in issue to raise any material questions concerning the Union's alleged breach of its duty of fair representation or RCA's alleged breach of the collective bargaining agreement *fn1" which, in any event, provides a mandatory grievance procedure which was not utilized beyond the initial stage. Bellesfield has cross-moved under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(f), requesting that the summary judgment motions be continued pending a reopening of and further discovery by him. Since I find that a breach of the Union's duty of fair representation could not be found by a factfinder on the evidence before me, and since I find no merit in plaintiff's Rule 56(f) claim, summary judgment for the Union and RCA is appropriate.

 II. Discussion

 Because unions serve as the exclusive bargaining agent for all employees in a collective bargaining unit -- including those employees opposed to the union -- courts have imposed on such unions a duty of fair representation in negotiating and enforcing collective bargaining agreements. Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 177, 17 L. Ed. 2d 842, 87 S. Ct. 903 (1967). This duty requires unions to "serve the interest of all members without hostility or discrimination towards any, to exercise discretion with complete good faith and honesty, and to avoid arbitrary conduct." Id., quoted in Bazarte v. United Transportation Union, 429 F.2d 868, 871 (3d Cir. 1970). It is necessary to prove a breach of this duty on the part of a union before the union or the employer may be held liable for damages arising from an alleged breach of the collective bargaining agreement. DelCostello v. Int'l Brotherhood of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 164-65, 103 S. Ct. 2281, 76 L. Ed. 2d 476 (1983).

 To establish a breach of the duty of fair representation, the employee must show that the union's actions towards him were "arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith." Masy v. New Jersey Transit Rail Operations, Inc., 790 F.2d 322, 328 (3d Cir. 1986), quoting Vaca, 386 U.S. at 190; Griesmann v. Chemical Leaman Tank Lines, Inc., 776 F.2d 66, 75 (3d Cir. 1985). A union is not free to ignore without reason a potentially meritorious grievance, or to pursue that grievance in "perfunctory fashion." Riley v. Letter Carriers Local No. 380, 668 F.2d 224, 228 (3d Cir. 1981).

 However, the union's duty to represent the varied interests of its constituent members requires that the union be afforded a certain amount of discretion in deciding how best to safeguard those interests. Masy, 790 F.2d at 328. Thus, it is not enough for a member of the collective bargaining unit to show that the union committed a mistake in the prosecution of a grievance, Riley, 668 F.2d at 228, nor is it sufficient to show negligence or poor judgment on the union's part. Maoilo v. Klipa, 655 F. Supp. 1139, 1143 (W.D. Pa. 1987). Similarly, it does not establish a breach of the duty if the ...


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