Court Opinions: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for Sept. 21

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

Hampton v. Bakery, Confectionery & Tobacco Workers and Grain

Anthony Hampton, who’s African American, was formerly employed by Frito-Lay, Inc in the receiving department. After he was terminated he filed a complaint against Bakery, Confectionery & Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union of America, Local 218, which represents employees of Frito-Lay in collective bargaining. The complaint asserts claims for breach of the duty of fair representation and for race discrimination. 

Beginning in 2018, Hampton’s coworker George Kistler frequently visited the receiving department for unrelated work purposes and expressed offensive and inflammatory comments and opinions to Hampton, including about race. 

During a visit in October 2018, Hampton asked Kistler to leave the receiving department. When Kistler asked if Hampton was going to “rat [him] out,” Hampton said Kistler’s managers already knew about his visits. At the end of his shift, Hampton told his manager about the incident and the next day gave the manager and the human resources director a written statement describing the incident and past visits. He denied threatening or striking Kistler. 

About a week later, Frito-Lay suspended Hampton without pay pending an investigation of the incident. During the investigation, Kistler told the investigator that Hampton had  “used profanity toward him” and “made physical contact with him.” 

Two employees who witnessed the incident signed written statements that confirmed the physical contact. Frito-Lay decided to terminate Hampton based on its zero-tolerance policy concerning workplace violence and offered him a confidential severance agreement where he would not return to work but would remain eligible for benefits for nine months when he would have access to his pension. Frito-Lay, through the union, offered Hampton the severance agreement. 

Hampton filed a grievance concerning his suspension. The union requested information about the suspension, including all investigation statements and the coworkers’ statements corroborating Kistler’s claim of profanity and physical contact. The union didn’t give Hampton the statements or tell him about them. 

Unaware of the statements, Hampton rejected the severance agreements and then a Frito-Lay manager sent Hampton a letter informing him that he was being terminated because the investigation established that he used profanity and made physical contact with another employee. 

Hampton filed a grievance concerning his termination and, at a meeting with his union representative and the manager to discuss it, Hampton denied having physical contact with Kistler. The manager denied the grievance a month later. 

Following a settled suit against Frito-Lay and Kistler, in which Hampton found out about the coworker’s statements that supported Kistler’s allegations, Hampton filed this lawsuit against the union. 

Hampton alleged that the union represented him in the grievance procedure “in an arbitrary and racially discriminatory manner, and in bad faith” by not showing him the coworker’s statements and by failing to tell him that they supported Kistler’s allegations. 

For his racial discrimination claim, Hampton alleged that the union discriminated against him “because of his race by . . . failing to reasonably advise him that the [coworkers’] statements … supported Mr. Kistler’s allegation,” which impaired his right to make and enforce the severance agreement. 

The union moved to dismiss both claims for failure to state a claim. The district court granted the motion and dismissed the complaint. 

A 10th Circuit Court of Appeals panel out of Kansas City, Kansas, ruled that Hampton failed to make a claim and affirmed the lower court’s decision because while the union’s failure to tell Hampton about the coworker’s statements may have been negligent, that isn’t enough to establish a breach of duty of fair representation. Aside from that, the court ruled that Hampton alleged no facts suggesting that the union handled his grievance perfunctorily.

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