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Saunders v. Ford Motor Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

January 11, 2018

Keith Saunders, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Ford Motor Company; Jeff Marzian; Karen Morrison, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued: November 29, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky at Louisville. No. 3:14-cv-00594-Joseph H. McKinley Jr., Chief District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Brian G. Abell, ADAMS HAWYARD & WELSH, Louisville, Kentucky, for Appellant.

          Jessica V. Currie, BUSH, SEYFERTH & PAIGE, PLLC, Troy, Michigan, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Brian G. Abell, ADAMS HAWYARD & WELSH, Louisville, Kentucky, for Appellant.

          Jessica V. Currie, Stephanie A. Douglas, BUSH, SEYFERTH & PAIGE, PLLC, Troy, Michigan, for Appellees.

          Before: GILMAN, SUTTON, and STRANCH, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          RONALD LEE GILMAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         This case involves claims by Keith Saunders against his employer, Ford Motor Company, under both § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. § 185, and Kentucky law. Saunders contends that Ford breached the applicable collective bargaining agreement (CBA) by twice placing him on temporary leave-known as no-work-available (NWA) status-and that his local union breached its duty of fair representation by failing to fully pursue his grievances. He also alleges that Ford retaliated against him by placing him on NWA status not long after he reopened a workers' compensation claim against the company.

         The district court granted Ford's motion for summary judgment on all of Saunders's claims. For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual background

         1. Saunders's employment at Ford

         Ford's entire workforce is governed by a CBA negotiated between the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) and the company. Agreements and Letters of Understanding negotiated by local UAW bargaining units and Ford provide additional contractual requirements at the plant level.

         Shortly after beginning work at Ford's Twin Cities Plant in 2001, Saunders injured his right arm when it got caught in a machine called an electric nutrunner that he inadvertently switched on while being trained to install coolant lines in car radiators. The injury has caused him to lose almost all use of that arm.

         Saunders received workers' compensation benefits while he recovered from the injury. When he returned to work, his doctors imposed temporary work restrictions that prohibited him from lifting heavy loads, engaging in repetitive motions, or using his right arm. Those restrictions eventually became permanent.

         The UAW often struggles to secure permanent job placements for medically restricted Ford workers like Saunders. And Saunders's post-injury employment history reflects those difficulties. In the initial aftermath of Saunders's injury, Ford assigned him to a series of temporary jobs. The company next assigned him to an airbag-installation job, but placed him on NWA status when he developed carpal-tunnel syndrome from the work. Ford eventually assigned Saunders to a torque-inspector job, a position that involves using a handheld computer to check nuts and bolts on vehicles for tightness. Saunders worked in that position for nearly eight years.

         Ford transferred Saunders to the company's Louisville Assembly Plant in January 2012, following the closure of the Twin Cities Plant. The Louisville Plant was in flux at the time because of a massive transfer of workers to the plant as dozens of other Ford plants shuttered across the country. The Louisville Plant was also beginning production of a new vehicle at that time. The plant's 1, 200-person workforce ballooned to 4, 000 workers virtually overnight. As the Louisville Plant contended with the flood of new workers and the demands of bringing a new vehicle online, it desperately needed trained and experienced torque inspectors. These circumstances allowed Saunders to continue working as a torque inspector for another year, even though he lacked the seniority for the position at the new plant.

         But once the Louisville Plant integrated the new workers, it reopened the torque-inspector jobs to the normal bid process. A more senior worker displaced Saunders in January 2013. The record lacks clarity on Saunders's precise employment history over the subsequent two years, but there is no dispute that he was placed in several short-term jobs punctuated by periods of medical leave and being on NWA status. And Saunders's medical records reflect ...


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