LMRDA Victory for Ex-Kansas City Boss

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Cir. ruled Apr. 24 that an ex-officer of Int’l Bhd. of Painters & Allied Trades Dist. Council 3 who won a Nat’l Labor Relations Bd. action against his union over his job loss can additionally bring a civil action against the union and its officers alleging violations of the the Labor Mgmt. Reporting & Disclosure Act of 1959. Reversing the U.S. Dist. Court for the W. Dist. of Mo.’s dismissal of Lonnie Gurley’s LMRDA action on the ground that he had already been “made whole” by the NLRB’s order that the union restore his lost earnings and benefits, the Eighth Cir., in an opinion by U.S. Cir. Judge Gerald W. Heaney (8th Cir., Johnson), held that Gurley did not have an “adequate opportunity” to litigate his LMRDA claim before the NLRB. The agency lacked jurisdiction over the claim, the court found, and was unable to award the full range of remedies available to a district court under the LMRDA.

Gurley lost his position as executive secretary of DC 3 in Kansas City, Mo., to Michael Hunt in a heated 1997 election. After the election, Gurley got a job as a painter with Essex Corp., but was fired in Jan. 1998. Believing that the union was behind his termination, he filed charges with NLRB, alleging that the union had fined him and had procured his discharge because he had opposed the incumbent leadership in the recent election. The board found for Gurley and ordered the union to make him whole.

After the NLRB’s ruling, Gurley brought a civil action against the union and Hunt alleging violations of the LMRDA’s “Bill of Rights of Members of Labor Organizations.” The action was based on the same events as the NLRB charge, but sought damages for emotional distress and punitive damages. The district court dismissed the action as barred by the legal doctrine of “res judicata,” finding that the cause had already been adjudicated.  However, the appellate court held: “Because the plain language of the LMRDA gives jurisdiction to the federal court, and because the type of relief authorized by the LMRDA is inconsistent with the [Nat’l Labor Relations Act’s] policy of issuing relief that vindicates public, not private rights,” the NLRB lacked jurisdiction to hear Gurley’s LMRDA claim; as a result, that claim is not barred by res judicata and may go forward.

U.S. Circuit Judges James B. Loken (8th Cir., G.H.W. Bush) and Diana E. Murphy (8th Cir., Clinton) concurred. Fred Lee Slough of Slough & Connealy, Kansas City, Mo., represented Gurley. Donald R. Aubry of Jolley & Walsh, Kansas City Mo., represented Hunt and the union. [BNA 4/29/02]