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That section provides in pertinent part: "Provided no complaint shall issue based upon any unfair labor practice occurring more than six months prior to the filing of the charge with the Board and the service of a copy thereof upon the person against whom such charge is made."
Each of these cases arose as a suit by an employee or employees against an employer and a union. Petitioner Philip DelCostello was employed as a driver, he quit or was discharged after refusing to drive a tractor-trailer that he contended was unsafe. He took his complaint to the union, which made unsuccessful informal attempts to get petitioner reinstated and then brought a formal grievance under the collective-bargaining agreement (CBA). A hearing was held before a regional joint union-management committee and it concluded that the grievance was without merit. Petitioner then filed this suit against the respondent employer and union, alleging that the respondent employer discharged him in violation of the CBA, and that the union had represented him in the grievance procedure in a discriminatory, arbitrary and perfunctory manner which resulted in an unfavorable decision by the joint committee. Respondents asserted that the suit was barred by Maryland's 30-day statute of limitations for actions to vacate arbitration awards. The District Court disagreed, holding that the applicable statute was the 3-year state statute for actions on contracts. However, on reconsideration following the decision in one case, the court granted summary judgment for respondents concluding that case law compelled application of the 30-day statute to both the claim against the employer and the claim against the union. The Court of Appeals affirmed. In the second case, respondents Donald C. Flowers and King E. Jones were employed as craft welders, they filed several grievances asserting that their employer violated the CBA by assigning certain welding duties to employees in other job categories and departments, hence, respondents were laid off or assigned to non-craft work. The union processed the grievances through the contractually established procedure and, failing to gain satisfaction, invoked arbitration. The arbitrator issued an award for the employer. Respondents filed this suit alleging that the company's work assignments violated the CBA, and that the union's conduct violated its duty of fair representation. The district court dismissed the complaint against both defendants, holding that the entire suit was governed by New York's 90-day statute of limitations for actions to vacate arbitration awards. The court of appeals rejected the contention that § 10(b) should be applied and affirmed the dismissal as to the employer under the 90-day arbitration statute but reversed as to the union, on the basis of its prior holding in a case law which provided that such actions were governed by New York's 3-year statute for actions on contracts. In one case, petitioner challenged the court of appeals’ judgment finding his suit against respondents untimely under borrowed state statutes of limitations rather than § 10(b) of the National Labor Relations Act. In the second case, petitioner union challenged a judgment of the court of appeals.
Should the provisions of § 10(b) of the National Labor Relations Act establishing a 6-month limitations period be applied in these cases?
In this type of suit, the 6-month limitations period in § 10(b) governed the claims against both the employer and the union. The Court noted that the employees were required to sue both their employers and their unions in a posture that combined § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, and breach of the union's duty of fair representation. The court also found that the suit involved here has no close analogy in ordinary state law, and the analogies suggested in a case law relied to by the lower courts suffered from flaws of both legal substance and practical application. In contrast, § 10(b)'s 6-month period for filing unfair labor practice charges was designed to accommodate a balance of interests. Both the union's breach of its duty and the employer's breach of the bargaining agreement were often also unfair labor practices. Moreover, in § 10(b), Congress established a limitations period attuned to what it viewed as the proper balance between the national interests in stable bargaining relationships and finality of private settlements, and an employee's interest in setting aside what he views as an unjust settlement under the collective-bargaining system. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment in the first case and remanded since petitioner employee contended that certain events tolled the running of the limitations period until about three months before he filed suit, but the district court, in applying the 30-day limitations period, declined to consider any tolling issue. As to the second case, the Court reversed the appellate court’s decision that the suit was timely filed under 3-year statute for malpractice actions since it was held that the action was governed by the 6-month period and it was conceded that the suit was filed more than 10 months after respondents' causes of action accrued.