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Hanchett v. Port of Houston Authority

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

March 31, 2017

GINA C. HANCHETT, Plaintiff,
v.
PORT OF HOUSTON AUTHORITY, et al, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          MELINDA HARMON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court are Plaintiff Gina C. Hanchett's (“Hanchett's”) Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Order (Document No. 46). The Magistrate Judge's Order (Document No. 45) denied Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Selection of an Arbitrator. (Document No. 40). Defendant International Longshoremen's Association Local No. 28 (“Local 28”) filed a Response to Plaintiff's Objections (Document No. 47) and Plaintiff then filed a Reply. (Document No. 48). Upon review of these documents, the facts, and the relevant law, the Court will sustain Plaintiff's Objections and grant Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Selection of an Arbitrator. (Document No. 40).

         Background

          Hanchett initiated this suit in 2011 against her employer, the Port of Houston Authority (POHA), and the union of which she was a member, Local 28, asserting claims of sexual harassment and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et. seq. (“Title VII”) (Document No. 1 at ¶¶ 6.1-7.4). Hanchett dismissed the POHA with prejudice (Document No. 22), but continued to pursue her claims against Local 28. Local 28 filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's claims (Document No. 24), but the Court determined that Hanchett's claims were subject to the Grievance and Arbitration procedure outlined in Local 28's Collective Bargaining Agreement. (Document No. 39[1]). Therefore the Court stayed the case “pending resolution of Plaintiff's claims pursuant to the mandatory arbitration procedure prescribed by the International Longshoreman Association's (“ILA”) collective bargaining agreement.” Id.

         As explained by Judge Stacy, this arbitration procedure “is a three step sequential process, with each step after step one being contingent upon the determination at the prior step.” (Document No. 45 at 2). The steps include (1) an initial hearing, (2) an appeal, and then (3) arbitration. Regarding Step 1:

The Step 1 hearings will be coordinated by the West Gulf Maritime Association….All evidence and testimony the Parties deem relevant is to be presented at the Step 1 hearing. The Step 1 hearing will be heard by at least one employer who is not involved in the dispute. If the dispute affects all employers, the Step 1 hearing will be heard by at least two employers. The West Gulf Maritime Association will prepare a Step 1 report describing the evidence presented and a recommended decision. The parties have 14 days from receipt of the Step 1 report to respond in writing to correct any omissions or mischaracterizations of any evidence given at the Step 1 hearing. The recommended decision is final and binding on the parties if there is no Step 2.

(Grievance and Arbitration Procedure, Document No. 40-1 at 1-2).[2] After the completion of Step 1, the Grievance Committee “determined that the evidence did not establish Ms. Hanchett's claim that she was discriminated or retaliated against in violation of Title VII. Therefore her charge against ILA Local 28 is dismissed.” (Document No. 42-2 at 9). Hanchett appealed and proceeded to Step 2:

The employer may not appeal a Step 1 report recommended decision. The District, on behalf of the ILA local, may appeal a Step 1 report recommended decision by written notice to the West Gulf Maritime Association within 30 days of day the Step 1 report is sent to the union.
The South Atlantic and Gulf Coast District, International Longshoremen's Association, and the West Gulf Maritime Association will use two mediators who are acceptable to both Parties. Mediators will serve at the discretion of the Parties throughout the term of the various Agreements between the Parties.
The Step 2 Appeals Committee is composed of one official of the I.L.A. District Office, one official of the West Gulf Maritime Association, and one mediator selected at random by the Parties. The mediator selected shall then schedule a Step 2 meeting as soon as possible, and will chair the Step 2 meeting. The parties to the dispute have a right to be heard at the Step 2 meeting. The meeting is in the nature of an appeal. The Appeals Committee is limited to a review of the evidence submitted at the Step 1 hearing as set forth in the Step 1 report. If there is a claim of new evidence or an incomplete record at the Step 1, the Step 2 Appeals Committee may remand the claim to the Step 1 committee to complete the hearing. Neither member of this committee may be directly involved in the dispute or have served in Step 1 of the grievance procedure.
If the official of the I.L.A. District Office and the official of the West Gulf Maritime Association agree on a decision, the decision will be signed by the ILA District Office and the West Gulf Maritime Association, and will be a final and binding decision. If the official of the I.L.A. District Office and the official of the West Gulf Maritime Association do not agree on a decision, each will prepare a proposed decision and submit those decisions to the mediator. The mediator must sign one of the decisions submitted. The decision signed by the mediator will be immediately implemented and observed.

(Document No. 40-1 at 2-3) (emphasis added). The Step 2 Appeals Committee for Hanchett's case consisted of Alan Fredrickson (mediator), Nathan Wesely (West Gulf Maritime Association representative), and Mike Dickens (International Longshoremen's Association District representative). (Document No. 42-3 at 1). The Appeals Committee determined that “the Step 1 Committee was correct in its decision to dismiss Hanchett's claims against Local 28.” Id. At 4. Wesely and Dickens agreed on this decision and signed it, and for this reason the decision was not signed by the mediator.

         Hanchett then tried to move to Step 3, arbitration, which is detailed as follows:

If the mediator signs a decision, either Party may request that the dispute be arbitrated. Arbitration must be requested within 30 days after the mediator's decision is distributed. If neither Party requests arbitration within 30 days following the ...

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