Legal Memorandum: Breach of Duty of Fair Representation Claims

Issue: What is a union’s duty of fair representation, and what is the statute of limitations on such claims?

Area of Law: Employee Law
Keywords: Breach of the duty of fair representation; Statute of limitations
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 462 U.S. 151; 789 F.2d 230
Cited Statutes: 29 U.S.C. § 160(b); 29 U.S.C. § 185
Date: 08/01/2006

A union violates the duty of fair representation when it acts in a manner that is arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith.  Woods v. Graphic Commc’ns, 925 F.2d 1195 at 1203 (9th Cir. 1991).  “Racial discrimination in grievance processing constitutes a primary violation of the duty.  Similarly, reckless disregard of the rights of an individual member constitutes an ‘arbitrary’ failure to represent  [the member].”  Id. (citations omitted).  Thus, when there is a knowing and intentional failure to file grievances on behalf of the plaintiff member notwithstanding repeated complaints to the union about his or her treatment, the union will be found to have violated the duty of fair representation.  Id.  In Woods, the court of appeals affirmed the district court’s finding that the union violated the duty of fair representation, even though the union “did not ignore Woods altogether” but never dealt with the complaints beyond an informal level.  Id. 

Claims against the Unions are barred by the six-month statute of limitations stated in 29 U.S.C. § 160(b) and DelCostello v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151 (1983).  (Order, 7.) 

The statute of limitations for actions brought under 29 U.S.C. § 185 for breach of the duty of fair representation is six months from the time that the plaintiff knew, or should have reasonably known, that such a breach occurred.  “[T]he limitations period begins to run when "’the plaintiff receives notice that the union will proceed no further with the grievance.’" Albright v. […]

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