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Hill v. International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO

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

September 19, 2019

Jill Hill, Plaintiff,
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO, et al., and United Airlines, Inc. Defendants.


          Gray H. Miller, Senior United States District Judge

         Pending before the court is United Airlines, Inc.’s (“United”) motion to dismiss plaintiff Jill Hill’s (“Hill”) amended complaint (Dkt. 16) (“Complaint”). Dkt. 24. Hill responded. Dkt. 27. Defendant International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO (“IAMAW”) separately answered Hill’s Complaint, in which it also requests dismissal of Hill’s claims.[1] Dkt. 22. Having considered the motions, response, reply, sur-reply, [2] and applicable law, the court is of the opinion that United’s and IAMAW’s motions (Dkts. 22, 24) should be GRANTED.

         I. Background

         This dispute arises from United’s termination of Hill’s employment after twenty-three years of service. Dkt. 16 at 3. A collective bargaining agreement between United and IAMAW (the “CBA”) governed Hill’s employment relationship with United at all relevant times. Id. at 1-2, 20; Dkt. 11-1 at 17-148.[3] The CBA is in turn subject to the requirements of the Railway Labor Act (“RLA”). Dkt. 11-1 at 17; 45 U.S.C. §§ 181-88.

         On October 17, 2017, United asked Hill to meet with a Corporate Security investigator during her regularly scheduled work hours (the “Interview”). Dkt. 16 at 13-14. Before commencing the Interview, United asked if Hill would like union representation present at the meeting and arranged for an IAMAW representative to attend the entire Interview. Id. at 14. Corporate Security presented Hill with the names of several individuals during the Interview and requested Hill disclose her relationship to those listed. Id.; Dkt. 11-1 at 4. Hill provided the requested information and admitted to changing tickets in violation of United’s Waivers and Favors Policy. Dkt. 11-1 at 4. At the conclusion of the Interview, United confiscated Hill’s United ID and her company issued hand held device. Dkt. 16 at 15.

         Hill alleges that United twice violated the CBA in connection with this Interview. According to Hill, United was required to provide advance written notice of the Interview and allow Hill an opportunity to consult with IAMAW prior to the Interview, but United did neither. Id. at 14-15. Hill raised her concerns with IAMAW and asked that IAMAW grieve United’s alleged violations pursuant to the CBA. Id. at 3-4, 14-15. But, “[a]t no point before, during, or after” the Interview did IAMAW object to or grieve these alleged procedural violations. Id. at 14-15.

         On November 1, 2017, United informed Hill it would be pursuing termination of her employment, and notified her of an investigatory review meeting (“IRM”) scheduled for November 7, 2017. Id. at 4. Hill met with IAMAW in advance of the IRM and again protested United’s alleged CBA violations. Id. at 4, 15. IAMAW stated that it wasn’t “going to simply throw mud just to see what might stick, ” and counseled Hill to keep her comments “very limited” during the IRM. Id. IAMAW further advised Hill that “it’s very difficult to get your job back in a Step 2. [Her] best chance for saving [her] job occurs during a Step 3.” Id. at 5 (emphasis omitted). “However, Hill did reiterate the confluence of serious personal issues she was dealing with [and] her desire to provide excellent customer service in the wake of multiple public relations fiascos plaguing United.” Id. IAMAW requested a “last chance agreement” during the IRM, but declined to press Hill’s personal circumstances. Id.

         United terminated Hill on December 7, 2017. Id. at 6. Hill subsequently contacted IAMAW, which assigned a representative to handle the Step 3 proceedings. Id. Hill was notified on March 8, 2018 that her Step 3 meeting would occur on March 19, 2018. Id. At the Step 3 meeting, IAMAW renewed its request for a last chance agreement and proffered Hill’s mitigating personal circumstances as justification. Id. at 6-7. Hill’s Step 3 meeting with United’s representative lasted one hour and a half. Id. at 7. United upheld Hill’s termination on April 23, 2018. Id. at 7. Hill alleges that four days later IAMAW informed her that United’s Step 3 termination notice came nine days after the CBA imposed deadline. Id. On June 21, 2018, IAMAW declined to appeal Hill’s termination to arbitration. Id.

         Hill filed suit against United and IAMAW on December 11, 2018. Dkt. 1. Hill alleges United breached the CBA when it terminated her because it (1) failed to establish ‘“just cause’ under standards of disciplinary due process and other protections afforded Hill pursuant to the CBA;” and (2) provided its Step 3 termination notice after the CBA established deadline. Dkt. 16 at 1-2, 17, 24-26. Hill also alleges two breaches of IAMAW’s duty of fair representation under the RLA. Specifically, Hill claims IAMAW breached its duty when it did not grieve United’s failure to provide written notice and an opportunity to consult with IAMAW prior to the Interview. Id. at 21-24. Hill further alleges IAMAW generally denied her fair representation throughout the termination process because Hill’s IAMAW dues payments were in arrears and she had publicly feuded with IAMAW regarding her dues payments. Id. at 7, 17-20.

         II. Legal Standard

         Under Rule 12(b)(1), a party can seek dismissal of an action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). “In determining whether the court has subject matter jurisdiction, [it] must accept as true the allegations set forth in the complaint.” Crane v. Johnson, 783 F.3d 244, 251 (5th Cir. 2015) “[A] trial court has the power to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on any one of three separate bases: (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court’s resolution of disputed facts.” Id.

         “Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.’” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007). “Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes the filing of motions to dismiss asserting, as a defense, a plaintiff’s failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Inclusive Cmtys. Project, Inc. v. Lincoln Prop. Co., 920 F.3d 890, 899 (5th Cir. 2019). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, “the court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Id.

         “[A] complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion does not need detailed factual allegations, [but] a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations omitted) (quotations omitted). The factual allegations must be enough to state a claim that is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “[F]acial plausibility exists ‘when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.’” Inclusive Cmtys., 920 F.3d at 899 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). “Factual allegations that are merely consistent with a defendant’s liability, stop short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief, and thus are inadequate.” Id. (internal quotations omitted).

         “In determining whether a plaintiff’s claims survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the factual information to which the court addresses its inquiry is limited to (1) the facts set forth in the complaint, (2) documents attached to the complaint, and (3) matters of which judicial notice may be taken under Federal Rule of Evidence 201.” Id. at 900. The court also can properly consider documents presented by the defendant that are referenced in the complaint and are central to the plaintiff’s claims. Id. A complaint that shows relief to be barred by an affirmative defense, such as the statute of ...

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