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Fausat Ogunbayo v. Hertz Corporation

April 5, 2013

FAUSAT OGUNBAYO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HERTZ CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. William J. Martini

OPINION

WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.

Presently before the Court is Defendant Hertz Corporation's ("Hertz's") motion for summary judgment. Pro se Plaintiff Fausat Ogunbayo opposes the motion. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion will be GRANTED.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was a Hertz employee from March 7, 2001 until March 15, 2011 at Hertz's Newark International Airport Rental Facility. During her employment with Hertz, she was a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union, Local 641 ("Local 641"). In this action, Plaintiff alleges that the manner in which Hertz suspended and subsequently terminated Plaintiff violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between Hertz and Local 641 (the "Local 641 CBA").

As an initial matter, it is undisputed that the terms and conditions of Plaintiff's employment with Hertz -- including Plaintiff's obligations to behave in a manner consistent with Hertz's rules of employee conduct, as well as Hertz's obligations to take certain formal steps prior to taking disciplinary action against Plaintiff for violating those rules -- are governed by the Local 641 CBA.

i. The Local 641 CBA Four-Step Grievance Process

Article VII of the Local 641 CBA sets forth a four-step grievance process (the "Grievance Process") for Local 641 and Hertz to resolve any "misunderstanding or dispute regarding the interpretation or enforcement of this Agreement." (CBA Art. VII, Ida Smith Cert. Ex. 1, ECF No. 32.) And thus, an employee*fn1 who feels their suspension or termination from Hertz violated the terms of the Local 641 CBA may -- along with a Local 641 representative -- initiate the Grievance Process by filing a formal grievance within five days of the challenged disciplinary action. (Id.)

At Steps I, II and III of the Grievance Process, representatives of Hertz and Local 641 are required to attempt to resolve any dispute between themselves. If the "dispute or grievance cannot be adjusted [at those steps, at Step IV the dispute or grievance] shall be submitted to arbitration . . . at the request of either [Local 641] or [Hertz], and the decision of such arbitrator shall be final and binding upon the parties." (Id.)

ii. Plaintiff's Suspension and Termination From Hertz

On January 7, 2011, representatives for Hertz and Local 641 met with Plaintiff to discuss concerns about Plaintiff's eccentric and inappropriate on-the-job behavior and related work performance issues. Plaintiff surreptitiously recorded that meeting with a video camera, in clear violation of Hertz's employee rules of conduct*fn2 (the "Video-Recording Incident").

As a result, on January 12, 2011, representatives for Hertz and Local 641 met with Plaintiff and informed her they would be conducting a further investigation into the Video-Recording Incident, and that Plaintiff was being suspended from Hertz pending the outcome of that investigation.*fn3 On January 14, 2011, Plaintiff initiated the Grievance Process to challenge her suspension-pending-investigation via a letter titled "GRIEVANCE." (Cert. of Peter O. Hughes, Ex. 3, ECF No. 32.)

Over the next few weeks, and in the course of the investigation of the Video-Recording Incident, Hertz received a number of reports about Plaintiff's bizarre at-work behavior, including: Plaintiff standing in the corner of Hertz's cash room with her pants down because "her legs were burning"; Plaintiff wearing a helmet during work because it made her feel safe; and Plaintiff wearing sunglasses at work because she wanted "to look like a super star." (Def.'s L. Civ. R. 56.1 Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute ¶¶ 25-27, ECF No. 32.) Plaintiff does not dispute that Hertz received those reports, just that the facts alleged in those reports are untrue. (Pl.'s Statement of Disputed Facts ¶¶ 10-12, ECF No. 34.) In addition, a number of employees signed a petition expressing their concern that Plaintiff had the potential to cause serious physical harm to co-workers. (Safety Concern Pet., Smith Cert. Ex. 5.)

On January 31, 2011, Hertz informed Plaintiff that her suspension for violating the work rule against making unauthorized recordings in the workplace would be upheld, and that Plaintiff would be required to obtain medical clearance in order to return to Hertz. Local 641 appears to have agreed that Hertz's actions were appropriate, as evidenced by a January 31, 2011 letter from Local 641 ...


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