Court of Appeals Holds that Six-Month Limitations Period Applies to Hybrid Claim for Employer’s Breach of Collective Bargaining Agreement and Union’s Breach of Duty of Fair Representation

On April 12, 2012, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals decided Price v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, No. 11-CV-567, slip op. (D.C. Apr. 12, 2012) in which it considered whether a six-month limitations period borrowed from Section 10(b) of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 160(b), applied to a hybrid claim against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”) for breach of a collective bargaining agreement and against Local 689, Amalgamated Transit Union (the “Union” or “Local 689”) for breach of the duty of fair representation. The case arose from WMATA’s termination of plaintiff-appellant’s employment as a bus driver for, inter alia, failing to disclose a felony conviction on his job application. The plaintiff-appellant subsequently filed a grievance with the Union which decided not to take his grievance to arbitration. He then filed a civil action alleging, inter alia, that WMATA wrongfully terminated his employment and that the union arbitrarily refused to take his grievance to arbitration. The trial court construed the plaintiff-appellant’s complaint as alleging a hybrid claim for employer breach of collective bargaining agreement and union breach of duty of fair representation. It ruled that, as such, pursuant to Supreme Court precedent the claim was time barred by a six-month limitations period borrowed from Section 10(b) of the NLRA. On appeal, the plaintiff-appellant argued that the trial court erred by applying the six-month limitations period rather than a three-year limitations period applicable under District of Columbia law to contract claims and claims for which no other limitations period is specified. See D.C. Code § 12-301(7), (8). He specifically attempted to distinguish the Supreme Court precedent by arguing that WMATA, as a political subdivision under an interstate compact, is not subject to the NLRA. The Court of Appeals recognized the force of this argument but nonetheless rejected it on the grounds that “courts — including this court — have looked to NLRA case law to derive principles applicable to disputes involving the WMATA collective bargaining agreement and Local 689 representation issues.” Further, it was persuaded by a long line of cases decided by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia which have applied the six-month limitations period borrowed from Section 10 of the NLRA to hybrid claims against WMATA and the Union. The Court of Appeals also rejected the plaintiff-appellant’s attempt to circumvent the six-month limitations period by re-characterizing his complaint as raising a civil rights claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court of Appeals therefore affirmed the trial court’s decision.