Civil No. 01-73591
June 5, 2002
Michael R. Josey, Detroit, MI, FINDLEY JONES, plaintiff.
Connye Y. Harper, UAW International Union Legal Department, Detroit, MI, UNITED AUTOMOBILE, AEROSPACE-AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENT WORKERS OF AMERICA INTERNATIONAL UNION OF defendant, GERALD WOOTEN, UAW Local 7 President, defendant, DARRELL MOTLEY, defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Findley Jones, Jr., a.k.a. Finzie Jones, Jr., ("Jones") sued the UAW and two of its officers for breach of contract and defamation in state court arising out of his termination from the position of Employer Assistance Program ("EAP") representative at DaimlerChrysler Corporation ("Chrysler"). Defendants timely removed the case to this court pursuant to § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"). See 29 U.S.C. § 185(a) ("Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization . . . may be brought in any district court. . . ."), Ulrich v. Goodyear Tire Rubber Co., 884 F.2d 936 (6th Cir. 1989) (federal labor law preempts state law claims regarding breaches of collective bargaining agreements).
Defendants moved for summary judgment, and alleged that Jones' suit is barred because he: (1) failed to exhaust internal union appeals, and (2) did not file his suit before the expiration of the applicable six month statute of limitations established in § 10(b) of the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"). At the hearing on May 7, 2002, I granted defendants' motion for summary judgment regarding these issues.
The only issue remaining is plaintiff's defamation claim. Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted as to this claim.
II. Factual Background
Jones was hired by Chrysler on September 13, 1965, and joined UAW Local 7 ("Local 7"). Jones has extensive experience in Local 7 union leadership. In 1970, he was elected to the Local 7 election committee. From 1970-72 he served as an Alternate Committeeman. In 1974, he was elected to the Executive Board. In 1976, he was elected Chief Steward. In 1992, he was elected Vice President of Local 7.
In 1993, Jones was appointed to the position of "Employer Assistance Program" ("EAP") representative. As EAP representative, Jones remained a Chrysler employee, not an employee of the UAW. Jones was appointed by Frank Massey ("Massey"), President of Local Union 7, after Massey won the election in 1993. Jones supported Massey in the election against Gerald Wooten ("Wooten").
In his capacity as EAP representative, Jones counseled and advised union workers on personal matters including addiction, depression, mental illness and family crises. Jones gave the workers information on local resources for assistance regarding these matters. Jones attended annual training sessions and conferences around the country, paid for by his employer.
In 1998, Wooten beat Massey in the Local 7 Union presidential election. Although Jones was appointed by Massey, he was not fired by Wooten after the election.
On November 8, 2000, Jones received a letter from the UAW, signed by Wooten, which informed Jones that employees had complained about his performance as an EAP representative. One of the complaints regarded an allegation that Jones had sexually harassed another female employee. Another stated that Jones had breached the confidence of an employee. Jones alleges that these employee complaints were fabricated by cronies of Wooten to provide a legitimate basis by which they could fire Jones and replace him with someone who had supported Wooten in the election. (Br. in Supp. Pl. Resp. to Def.s' Mot. Summ. J. at 1.)
On or about January 26, 2001, Jones was terminated from his position as EAP representative by a letter from Nate Gooden, Vice President and Director of the UAW DaimlerChrysler Department. On or about January 29, 2001, Wooten wrote to Jones requesting he turn over all documents and keys. None of the other four EAP representatives appointed by Massey has been fired by Wooten.
The day after his termination, January 27, 2001, Jones returned to the assembly line and worked as an assembler on the shift of his choice. Jones voluntarily retired from Chrysler in April. 2001.
Plaintiff brought suit against the UAW on September 5, 2001. He alleged that he was unlawfully terminated for political reasons and without just cause or a full and fair hearing. He also alleged that officers of the UAW made false accusations and statements in the form of employee complaints against Jones which amount to defamation. Defendants removed the case to this court on September 21, 2001. Defendants moved for summary judgment on March 25, 2002.
III. Standard of Review
Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandate the entry of summary judgment when "the pleadings, depositions, answer to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." There is no genuine issue of material fact for trial unless, by viewing the evidence in favor of the nonmoving party, a reasonable jury could return a verdict for that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc, 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986), Boddy v. Dean, 821 F.2d 346, 349 (6th Cir. 1987).
Jones' allegations of defamation are vague at best. He contends that "in bad faith and for personal reasons . . . the Defendant Gerald Wooten and Defendant Darrell Motley and other employees of Defendant UAW did maliciously conspire to cause Plaintiff to be discharged without just cause" by "allow[ing] to be published false accusations and false statements to other UAW members alleging that Plaintiff had engaged in sexually improper conduct toward a female employee." (Compl. at ¶¶ 11-12.) Presumably, Jones believes that his defamation claim against the individual defendants, and against the UAW, is exclusively a state law claim that does not involve interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, however, has found that a state law defamation claim against a labor union and automotive manufacturer is preempted by section 301, as codified at 29 U.S.C.A. § 185. See DeCoe v. General Motors, 32 F.3d 212, 216 (6th Cir. 1992). In DeCoe, the plaintiff, a district committeeman for the UAW, was dismissed from his position after his coworkers alleged that he sexually harassed them. Plaintiff then filed an action in Michigan state court, which alleged that the sexual harassment claims were false and were politically motivated. Id. at 214-15. The Sixth Circuit held that his claims were preempted by section 301, and affirmed their dismissal by the district court. See id. at 217.
Similarly, I find Jones' defamation and conspiracy claims to be preempted by section 301. Proof of defamation under state law requires interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement. Id. at 216. In order for a plaintiff to be successful on a defamation claim in Michigan, he must prove that the defendants made a false statement, and that there was an unprivileged publication of that statement to a third party. See DeCoe v. General Motors, 32 F.3d 212, 217 (6th Cir. 1992). To determine "whether defendants had a privilege to publish information regarding plaintiff's alleged sexual harassment turns on the interpretation of the CBA." Culik v. University of Detroit Mercy, Case No. 02-70773, 2002 WL 551026 at *3 (E.D. Mich. April 4, 2002) (Hood, J.) (discussing DeCoe). Thus, Jones' defamation claim is preempted by federal law, and his defamation claim is governed by section 301.
Since Jones' suit should have been brought pursuant to section 301, he is bound by its procedural limitations. Exhaustion of internal union remedies is required before the commencement of any litigation. See Willetts v. Ford Motor Co., 583 F.2d 852, 855 (6th Cir. 1978). It is undisputed that Jones failed to exhaust his remedies, as required. Thus, any claim he might have under section 301 is barred. Id.
However, even if plaintiff did comply with the exhaustion requirement, his claim would be untimely. Claims under section 301 must be brought within its six-month statute of limitations. 29 U.S.C. § 160(b),DelCostello v. Int'l Brotherhood of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 154-55, 103 S.Ct. 2281, 76 L.Ed.2d 476 (1983). The limitations period begins to run when the plaintiff discovers, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have discovered, the alleged breach. See Adkins v. International Union of Elec., Radio Mach. Workers, 769 F.2d 330, 335 (6th Cir. 1985) ( citing Shapiro v. Cook United, Inc., 762 F.2d 49, 51 (6th Cir. 1985)), McCreedy v. UAW Local 971, 809 F.2d 1232, 1236 (6th Cir. 1987). Jones alleges that his termination from the EAP representative constituted a breach of the collective bargaining agreement. Jones' letter of termination was dated and sent on or about January 26, 2001. Jones therefore had until approximately July 26, 2001 to bring suit. He did not file until September 5, 2001. His claim would be untimely and barred.
For the aforementioned reasons, defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as to plaintiff's claim of defamation is GRANTED.