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NetJets Aviation, Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters

June 2, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Gregory L. Frost

Magistrate Judge Abel


This case requires the Court to review an arbitrator's award that was issued pursuant to the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"), 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. (Doc. # 1). The Court considers this matter pursuant to cross motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff NetJets Aviation, Inc. ("NetJets") and Defendants International Brotherhood of Teamsters ("International") and International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 1108 ("Local 1108") (collectively "Union"). (Doc. # # 22, 23). The parties have completed briefing the motions, and the Court therefore issues the following decision.


NetJets is a Delaware corporation that sells fractional ownership in aircraft. (Doc. # 1 ¶ 2, 7).*fn1 International is the exclusive collective bargaining representative for all of NetJets' pilots via a collective bargaining agreement ("Agreement") between the two parties that was created pursuant to the RLA. Id. at ¶ 3; Doc. # 13 at ¶ 1; Doc. # 21 Ex. A. The Local 1108 is the local representative of NetJets' pilots. Id. at ¶ 4.

NetJets employed Jason Piper ("Piper") as a First Officer in May 2002. Id. at ¶ 16. In that capacity, Piper was responsible for assisting or relieving the Captain in the "manipulation of flight controls of an aircraft while in flight." (Doc. # 21 § 3.3). Piper also served as Chairman of the Union's Communications Committee. (Doc. # 1 Ex. A at 3, 4). Through that position, Piper became one of a very few number of people who could make changes on the Union's website.

Id. at 4.

In 2004, NetJets and the Union reached a tentative agreement regarding an amendment to the Agreement. (Doc. # 1 ¶ 11). In August 2004, with a vote on the amendment looming, NetJets sent each of its pilots a DVD entitled "The Contract is the Foundation for Everyone's Success" encouraging them to vote in favor of the amendment. Id.

Two months later, a pilot that worked for NetJets informed the company that a video had been posted on the message board portion of the Union's website that was accessible to pilots. Id. at ¶ 12. NetJets conducted an investigation and determined that Piper had created the video. Id. at ¶ ¶ 16-18; Id. at Ex. A at 4, 6.

The content of the DVD, which is thirty seconds in length, is described as follows:

[The] video tape ... showed 'Contract Stress Relief--10/10/04' on a red background. It then showed a close-up of the cover of the DVD, moving to the cover placed on a black background. The face of the DVD has its title, 'The Contract is the Foundation for Everyone's Success' at the top, the date 9-28, DVD and 'Running Time 36 Minutes' in the center and the word 'NETJETS' at the bottom. The scene then shifts to a picture of a semi-automatic rifle being held with the left arm showing a blue uniform with three stripes. The scene then shifts to the target DVD with bullets being fired into the DVD, including a close-up showing the holes being made. The scene next shifts to the grass, apparently below the target with a close-up of the DVD case broken into pieces and then the DVD itself with bullet holes in it. Finally, there are the words 'Anyone care to guess how I voted?' The words of the background music ... end with the words 'We will, we will rock you.' (Doc. # 1 Ex. A at 3). After becoming aware of the DVD, the Union removed it from its website and stripped Piper of his title as the Chairman of the Union's Communications Committee. (Doc. # 1 Ex. A at 4).

Subsequently, a NetJets representative viewed the DVD and met with Piper and the Union. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ ¶ 25-26; Doc. # 1 Ex. A at 4). Shortly thereafter, NetJets terminated Piper's employment. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 26). The Union grieved Piper's termination pursuant to the Agreement. Id. at ¶ 27. The arbitration took place on April 26, 2005 before Arbitrator Robert Harris ("Harris"), Chairman and Sole Member of the System Board of Adjustment ("Board"). Id. at ¶ 28; Doc. # 1 Ex. A at 2.

Harris issued his Decision and Award ("Award") on June 30, 2005. (Doc. # 1 Ex. A). The Award set forth the factual scenario surrounding the grievance, outlined the testimony from the April 26, 2005 hearing, noted that Piper had admitted to creating the video, stated that Piper had apologized for his actions, and discussed the positions of the parties. Id. at 4-10. Harris framed the issue as whether NetJets' decision to terminate Piper was "appropriate." Id. at 10. Ultimately, Harris concluded that Piper's actions were not a "symbolic murder" of NetJets' officials but were rather "just an attack on the tentative agreement." Id. Moreover, Harris noted that Piper created the video at his home, not at or near his workplace. Id. at 12. Harris also stated that there was a clear lack of evidence that anyone, "other than pilots" saw the video. Id. As a result, Harris sustained the grievance in part. Specifically, Harris concluded:

Grievant shall be returned to work without back pay, but with full seniority restored if he agrees to sign a letter indicating that he will not, for a one- year period, in any way advise the Union about websites, or otherwise engage in any activity which would allow him to take part in the creation or modification of the Union website. Grievant will also be responsible for the payment of costs of his retraining. In the event that he refuses to sign such a letter, his discharge shall be upheld. The Board shall retain jurisdiction for the sole purpose of resolving any disputes regarding the enforcement of this Award. (Doc. # 1 Ex. A at 13).

NetJets filed the instant action on July 15, 2005 seeking an Order vacating the Award in addition to its attorney's fees and costs. (Doc. # 1at ¶ ¶ 30-32). The Union then filed its Answer and Counterclaim, moving the Court for an Order requiring NetJets to reinstate Piper to his former position in ...

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