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Sullivan v. Endeavor Air, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 8, 2017

Michael Sullivan, Petitioner - Appellant
v.
Endeavor Air, Inc., formerly known as Pinnacle Airlines, Inc., formerly known as Express Airlines, Inc., formerly known as NWA Airlink, Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: March 8, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis

          Before BENTON, BEAM, and MURPHY, Circuit Judges.

          BENTON, Circuit Judge.

         Michael Sullivan appeals the district court's[1] denial of his Amended Petition to Vacate Arbitration Award. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, this court affirms.

         I.

         The petition seeks to vacate an arbitration award issued by a System Board of Adjustment pursuant to the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 151, et seq. The RLA states: "If any employee . . . is aggrieved by any of the terms of an award . . . then such employee . . . may file in any United States district court . . . a petition for review . . . . On such review, the findings and order [of the Board] shall be conclusive on the parties . . . ." 45 U.S.C. § 153(q). See United Paperworkers Int'l Union, AFL-CIO v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 37-38 (1987) ("Because the parties have contracted to have disputes settled by an arbitrator chosen by them rather than by a judge, it is the arbitrator's view of the facts and of the meaning of the contract that they have agreed to accept. Courts thus do not sit to hear claims of factual or legal error by an arbitrator . . . . To resolve disputes about the application of a collective-bargaining agreement, an arbitrator must find facts and a court may not reject those findings simply because it disagrees with them."); Hunt v. Northwest Air., Inc., 600 F.2d 176, 179 (8th Cir.) (decisions of airline boards under section 184 have the same legal characteristics and effect as those of the railroad board under section 153), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 946 (1979). Although Sullivan disputes some of the facts set forth in the award, they are "conclusive, " and are the basis for the following facts.

         Sullivan was a pilot for a predecessor to Endeavor Air, Inc. from 2001 until his termination in December 2006. Endeavor's pilots are represented by the Air Line Pilots Association, International. The ALPA and Endeavor have a collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

         Before 2006, Sullivan received "nondisciplinary counselings about such things as being late for a flight, trying to change out times to avoid a recorded late departure, and appearance." He was never disciplined formally. On October 17, 2006, Endeavor issued him two "Written Letters of Warning, " for missing a flight and failing to keep certifications current. He did not grieve either warning; pursuant to the CBA, they became binding. Two weeks later, Endeavor disciplined him for violating company dress code and arriving late to a flight. It scheduled a meeting to discuss these violations. He missed the meeting, but the parties met the next day.

         On November 29, Endeavor gave Sullivan a "Final Written Letter of Warning" about his "overall duty performance, " including:

duty performance, poor decision-making causing delayed flights, late arrival to the aircraft for showtime, inappropriate use of the ACARS system, failure to remain contactable, failure to report for meetings with company management, unprofessionalism, and substandard uniform compliance.

         The letter stated his appearance and conduct had "fallen below the standards expected of you" and cautioned that "any further infractions against company policies and procedures will result in additional disciplinary action up to and including termination." He again did not grieve the warning. It became binding.

         On December 10, Sullivan made at least two sexually explicit comments to a female flight attendant. On December 11, he showed up late for a flight. Two weeks later, Endeavor fired him. In the termination letter, Endeavor cited his late arrival to the December 11 flight and inappropriate comments to the flight attendant in violation of the company's anti-harassment policy.[2]

         Sullivan grieved his termination to a three-member System Board of Adjustment under the CBA. Arguing his termination was without "just cause, " he contended: (1) his comments to the flight attendant were not unlawful or violative of the anti-harassment policy; (2) his conduct did not warrant termination; and (3) Endeavor terminated him in retaliation for complaints he made to the Federal ...


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