![if gte IE 9]><![endif]><![if gte IE 9]><![endif]><![if gte IE 9]><![endif]>
Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
Title VII imposes an obligation on the employer to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an employee or prospective employee, unless the employer demonstrates that accommodation would result in undue hardship on the conduct of its business. 29 C.F.R. § 1605.2(b)(1), (2) (1999). On the other, under federal labor law, a union has a duty to represent fairly all employees for whom it serves as a bargaining agent, and it may be liable for breach of the duty of fair representation when its conduct toward a member of the collective bargaining unit is arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith. The duty of fair representation requires the union to serve the interests of all members without hostility or discrimination toward any, to exercise its discretion with complete good faith and honesty, and to avoid arbitrary conduct.
Plaintiff Gerald M. Thomas was employed by the defendant Postal Service from February 1987 to May 1996. The National Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the defendants Postal Service and the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) required the Local Union to regulate employees' days off pursuant to the Local Memorandum of Understanding (LMOU). By virtue of the LMOU, plaintiff, along with the other 400-plus regular residential letter carriers, was placed on a rotating schedule that required him to work five Saturdays out of six. When plaintiff became a member of the Church of God, which had strict observance of the Sabbath which fell on Saturdays, he informed his station manager and asked if something could be done to allow him to receive all Saturdays off from work. Plaintiff also brought the matter up with the postmaster and the labor relations specialist at the postal service. In 1994, defendant postal service approved 25 of plaintiff’s 29 requests to take annual leave on Saturdays. In 1995, 20 out of plaintiff’s 22 requests were granted. The management also allowed plaintiff to trade with other letter carriers who voluntarily agreed to work for him on Saturdays. The postmaster and the labor relations specialist approached the President of the Local Union, to ask the Union to issue a waiver excusing plaintiff from the LMOU-established Saturday work schedule but the union refused to grant such a waiver. Plaintiff then suggested alternatives to enable him to observe his religious belief but the union would not agree to any of it. Thus, plaintiff refused to work on Saturdays, and was absent without leave several times when he was unable to use his leave. As a result, he received progressive discipline. Plaintiff filed suit against defendant postmaster general in the federal district court alleging that he was unlawfully discharged because of his religious beliefs. A year later, plaintiff also filed suit against defendants postal service and the NALC alleging wrongful discharge and civil conspiracy in violation of state law. The district court granted defendant postal service's motion for summary judgment on the religious discrimination claim. Plaintiff now appealed that ruling. In a separate opinion issued the same day, the district court granted the defendants motions to dismiss the wrongful discharge and civil conspiracy claims pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Appellant filed two appeals from the district court’s order.
1. Did the court correctly grant defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the religious discrimination claim?
2. Did the court correctly dismissed plaintiff’s wrongful discharge and civil conspiracy claims?
The court affirmed summary judgment for appellee postal service. The court concluded that it had taken reasonable steps to try to accommodate appellant's religious beliefs and therefore fulfilled its obligation under Title VII. The court also agreed with the district court that appellant's claims against appellee union constituted a claim for the breach of the duty of fair representation, which was preempted by federal labor law. The court, likewise, found no basis for appellant's argument that the Farmer exception to preemption for overriding state interests deeply rooted in local feeling and responsibility applied. Since appellant did not bring a federal claim within the applicable six-month statute of limitations for claims asserting a violation of the duty of fair representation, the court ruled that his claim was barred as untimely.