• Court Dismisses DFR Claim by Flight Attendant Discharged for Failure to Pay Back Dues
  • July 26, 2010
  • Law Firm: Ford Harrison LLP - Atlanta Office
  • A federal trial court in Chicago has dismissed a breach of duty of fair representation (DFR) claim filed against the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) by an American Airlines flight attendant who was discharged for failing to pay her union dues. See Jolicoeur-Vasseur v. Ass'n of Prof'l Flight Attendants, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15273 (N.D. Ill., 2/19/10).

    In this case, APFA claimed the plaintiff owed over $600 in back dues. The collective bargaining agreement (CBA) governing the plaintiff's employment provides that when back dues are owed, a flight attendant will be notified of the dues delinquency by certified mail and informed that failure to pay the delinquency could result in discharge. In accordance with this provision, APFA attempted to notify the plaintiff of the dues delinquency; however, certified letters sent to her were returned. Subsequently, a union official hand-delivered a letter to the plaintiff, explaining that she owed back dues and could be discharged if she did not pay the arrearage. The plaintiff refused to sign an acknowledgment that she had received the letter and stated that she did not owe any money.

    After the plaintiff failed to pay the back dues, American discharged her at APFA's request. After several unsuccessful attempts to be reinstated, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit levying a DFR claim against APFA and seeking reinstatement from American.

    Under the Railway Labor Act (RLA) a collective bargaining representative has a duty to fairly represent all union members. To show a breach of duty of fair representation, an employee must show "substantial evidence of fraud, deceitful action, or dishonest conduct." The court held that APFA fulfilled its obligation under the CBA to provide notice of the dues delinquency and the possibility of discharge for failure to remedy the delinquency. The court rejected the plaintiff's argument that AFPA breached its duty of fair representation by not ensuring that she read and understood the delinquency notice. The court refused to read into the CBA a requirement that the plaintiff be fully apprised of all the issues (that is, her dues delinquency and the grievance procedure), when the CBA did not include such a provision.

    The court held that the plaintiff could not argue that APFA breached its duty of fair representation because she did not read the notice letter or CBA procedures. The court also held that APFA did not breach its duty of fair representation by refusing to reverse its decision to terminate the plaintiff, when it followed the CBA provisions and the plaintiff provided no authority supporting her claim that the union should have reversed its decision.

    Because the court found that APFA did not breach its duty of fair representation, it dismissed the claim for reinstatement against American, holding "there is no additional relief that plaintiff could seek, on this complaint, against American."