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Taha v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 13, 2020

Osama Taha, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 781, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued September 19, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 18-cv-01201 - Charles P. Kocoras, Judge.

          Before Sykes, Hamilton, and Brennan, Circuit Judges.

          BRENNAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Federal law imposes a duty on unions to fairly represent all employees in their bargaining units. Osama Taha sued his union, arguing it breached that duty after his employer fired him for abandoning his job. Although the union grieved Taha's firing, he alleges it did so unfairly. He also contends the union wrongfully shut down his grievance process. The district court dismissed Taha's second amended complaint for failure to state a claim, finding it gave no details to support any allegation of unlawful union conduct. Our review compels the same conclusion. Because Taha's complaint fails to state a plausible claim for relief, we affirm.

         I

         United Airlines hired Taha in 1988 and laid him off in 2003. He retained recall rights to his position under a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between the airline and his union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 781. After a twelve-year furlough, United offered Taha an opportunity to return to work at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, which he accepted.

         About three weeks into this new job, Taha learned his mother had suffered a heart attack. Because she lived in Saudi Arabia, Taha asked for time off to travel and care for her. Taha wanted six months; United gave him 30 days. He sought to extend his leave by reaching out to several people for help, among them Carla Starck, a human resources representative with United. Starck told Taha that United's operations management department had the final say on an extension. Taha also spoke with the union's president, Paul Stripling, who told him to trust in the union's process.

         United denied Taha's extended-leave request in a letter sent to his home in Indiana. But Taha never saw it, as he remained in Saudi Arabia throughout his leave. Nor did he return to work, which the airline construed as job abandonment. Three months after United expected Taha back on the job, he was fired.

         Taha grieved his firing through the union. The CBA required Taha, with the union's help, to first attempt to resolve the dispute through a series of informal exchanges with United. Those exchanges included supervisor discussions as well as a written complaint and answer process. After that, if the dispute remained unsettled, the CBA required Taha and United to take the grievance before a body known as the Joint Board of Adjustment ("JBA"). Taha's grievance culminated in a JBA hearing, and Stripling represented Taha in that proceeding.

         The JBA unanimously denied Taha's grievance. Stripling notified Taha about the JBA's decision in a letter saying: "The board has denied your grievance. Good luck in your future endeavors." In response, Taha asked the union to demand arbitration from United. But the union showed no urgency in answering him, waiting over six months to reply. When the union finally responded, it explained that the CBA barred further pursuit of his grievance.

         Taha then sued the union, alleging it breached its duty to fairly represent him under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151-188.[1] His pleadings proceed in pairs. He filed two amended complaints, with the second alleging two separate incidents: the union's handling of his JBA hearing, and its post-hearing refusal to arbitrate. He also pleaded only two facts to support his breach claims: (1) before the JBA hearing began, Taha overheard Stripling and Starck "chatt[ing] genially" about Starck acquiring airline tickets for some of Stripling's friends; and (2) during the hearing, Stripling "told Taha to remain silent" and "prevented Taha from presenting several strong and important exhibits."

         The union moved to dismiss Taha's second amended complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing it failed to allege enough facts to support an unfair representation claim. It also argued Taha's complaint was time-barred. The district court agreed with the ...


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