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International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers v. Transit Management of Charlotte, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

November 19, 2019



          David C. Keesler United States Magistrate Judge

         THIS MATTER IS BEFORE THE COURT on Defendant's “Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 16) and “Plaintiff SMART's Motion For Summary Judgment” (Document No. 17). The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and these motions are now ripe for disposition. Having carefully considered the motions, the record, applicable authority, and the oral arguments of counsel at a Motions Hearing on November 6, 2019, the undersigned will grant Plaintiff's motion and deny Defendant's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers (“Plaintiff” or the “Union”) brought this case under the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 185, after Transit Management of Charlotte, Inc. (“Defendant”), refused to follow the negotiated grievance and arbitration process with regard to employee Derrick Hector. (Document No. 1). Plaintiff and Defendant are parties to a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”), which contains a grievance and arbitration provision. See (Document No. 17-3). To resolve a prior grievance, Plaintiff, Defendant, and Hector agreed to a “Settlement Agreement” under which Hector was reinstated to his position with certain conditions. See (Document No. 17-4). The Settlement Agreement included a confidentiality provision in which the parties agreed to keep the terms of the agreement confidential. Id.

         On June 21, 2018, Defendant terminated Hector's employment, claiming he violated the confidentiality provision of the Settlement Agreement. The Union disagreed that Hector violated the Settlement Agreement, and attempted to invoke the CBA's grievance and arbitration process to resolve the dispute over Hector's termination. Defendant refused to process the grievance or proceed to arbitration, and the Union filed suit.

         Plaintiff's claim under the LMRA is that the dispute over Hector's termination is covered by the CBA's grievance and arbitration provision, and Plaintiff seeks an order compelling Defendant to proceed to arbitration for the dispute. (Document No. 1). After a brief period of discovery, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. (Document Nos. 16 and 17).


         The standard of review here is familiar. Summary judgment shall be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant has the “initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal citations omitted). Only disputes between the parties over material facts (determined by reference to the substantive law) that might affect the outcome of the case properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is “genuine” only if the evidence is such that “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         When considering cross-motions for summary judgment, a court evaluates each motion separately on its own merits using the standard set forth above. See Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 522 (4th Cir. 2003); accord Local 2-1971 of Pace Int'l Union v. Cooper, 364 F.Supp.2d 546, 554 (W.D. N.C. 2005).


         Under the Supreme Court's standard for determining the arbitrability of a labor dispute, the parties first must have an agreement to submit disputes to arbitration. AT&T Technologies, Inc. v. Communications Workers of America, 475 U.S. 643, 648 (1986) (quoting United Steelworkers of America v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Company, 363 U.S. 574, 582 (1960)). Second, “unless the parties clearly and unmistakably provide otherwise, the question of whether the parties agreed to arbitrate is to be decided by the court, not the arbitrator.” AT&T, 475 U.S. at 649; see also BG Group, PLC v. Rep. of Argentina, 572 U.S. 24, 34 (2014). Third, “in deciding whether the parties have agreed to submit a particular grievance to arbitration, a court is not to rule on the potential merits of the underlying claims.” Id. Finally, where the parties have agreed to an arbitration provision, there is a presumption of arbitrability. Id. at 650 (“Doubts should be resolved in favor of coverage.”) (citing Warrior & Gulf, 363 U.S. at 582-83). “[T]he party contesting the presumption of arbitrability bears the burden of producing strong and forceful evidence of an intention to exclude the matter from arbitration.” United Steelworkers of Am. v. Lukens Steel, 969 F.2d 1468, 1475 (3rd Cir. 1992).

         The parties do not dispute that their CBA contains a broad grievance and arbitration procedure for the resolution of disputes, nor that they are parties to the Settlement Agreement. The Settlement Agreement states, in pertinent part:

3. Norman Stocker, arbitrator, retains jurisdiction over any grievance that goes to arbitrator [sic] involving Derrick Hector following the three month probationary period; and, 4. The parties agree that the terms of this agreement are to remain confidential and that neither party will discuss the terms or negotiation of this agreement. Should Hector violate the confidentiality of this agreement the agreement is voided and he is subject to termination without grievance rights as set forth in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The Company too agrees to be bound by this ...

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