PATRICK P. STAUDNER, Plaintiff - Appellant,
ROBINSON AVIATION, INC.; PROFESSIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ORGANIZATION, Defendants - Appellees.
Argued: September 27, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of North Carolina, at Greenville. Terrence W. Boyle,
Chief District Judge. (4:15-cv-00098-BO)
Humphrey Stroud, COLOMBO, KITCHIN, DUNN, BALL & PORTER,
LLP, Greenville, South Carolina, for Appellant.
Michael Geren, FREEDMAN & LORRY, PC, Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, for Appellee Professional Air Traffic
Controllers Organization. Michael Coghlan Lord, WILLIAMS
MULLEN, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee Robinson
DIAZ, THACKER, and HARRIS, Circuit Judges.
Harris wrote the opinion, in which Judge Diaz and Judge
HARRIS, CIRCUIT JUDGE
Staudner brought suit under § 301(a) of the Labor
Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185(a), alleging
that his union and his former employer breached the
collective bargaining agreement that governed his employment.
Specifically, he claims that his former employer wrongfully
terminated him, and that his union breached its duty of fair
representation in its handling of his resulting grievance.
district court found that the collective bargaining agreement
required Staudner to exhaust the agreement's grievance
procedures before filing suit in federal court, and that
Staudner had failed to do so. Interpreting this exhaustion
requirement as a prerequisite to its jurisdiction over the
case, the district court dismissed Staudner's action. We
find that the district court erred in two respects: first, in
treating exhaustion as a matter of jurisdiction; and second,
in holding that this collective bargaining agreement in fact
required exhaustion. Accordingly, we reverse.
Staudner worked for Robinson Aviation, Inc., as an air
traffic controller for fourteen years. During that time, he
regularly received successful performance reviews. According
to Staudner, however, toward the end of his tenure, his
relationship with his direct supervisor soured. Staudner
contends that the resulting personal animosity caused
Robinson Aviation to fire him in November 2014 - roughly a
month after his latest successful performance review.
Robinson Aviation justified Staudner's termination by
pointing to a number of minor breaches of airport policy:
Staudner parked (partially) in the wrong spot, did not stop
when entering the parking lot, and did not lock his car.
Robinson Aviation also indicated that Staudner twice failed
to lock the air traffic control tower following a shift,
allegations that Staudner denies.
the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between
Robinson Aviation and Staudner's union, the Professional
Air Traffic Controllers Organization, Staudner may be
terminated only "for just cause." J.A. 38. Because
Staudner believes that his supervisor fired him for personal
reasons, and that Robinson Aviation's stated reasons are
pretextual, he argues that his termination violated the
collective bargaining agreement. For support, Staudner points
to his consistently positive performance reviews, as well as
his supervisor's admission that he had never before
disciplined an employee for failing to park in the correct
spot or lock his car.
filed a grievance to appeal his termination under the
four-step process set out by the collective bargaining
agreement. As described by the agreement, the first three
steps involve filing written grievances with Robinson
Aviation officials of escalating authority, culminating with
a decision from ...