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Trail v. Local 2850 UAW, No. 12-1632

Decided: March 21, 2013

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the district court in dismissing Trail’s complaint for failure to state a claim under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA).

Melissa Trail was employed by General Dynamics until she was suspended on March 26, 2009. Trail belonged to Local 2850 of UAW/United Defense Workers of America (“Local 2850”). Trail was suspended after the plant’s unionized employees went on strike, and Trail was charged with felony identity theft for taking part in publishing the salaries and Social Security numbers of the facility’s salaried employees.  Although the charges were ultimately dismissed against Trail, she was fired on September 15, 2009. After Trail was suspended, but before she was fired, Trail witnessed the Union’s President and Vice President viewing pornographic images on a work computer. After this incident, Trail claims that the company began to retaliate against her.  As a result of this retaliation Trail brought an action claiming the company violated the LMRDA. The district court concluded that Trail failed to state a claim and granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss.

Trail argued on appeal that it is not necessary that she allege that she was formally “discipline[d]” within the meaning of the Act in order to have a viable retaliation claim under LMRDA. The court of appeals stated that in this instance the district court did go too far in curtailing an employee’s free-speech rights under the Act. In deciding whether or not a union member’s speech falls within the Act, the court adopted the test set forth in the Eighth Circuit which analogizes the rights of union members to the First Amendment rights of government employees.  In order for the speech to be protected it must be of “union concern.” The court held here that Trail did not speak on a matter of union concern when she reported the alleged pornography incident, therefore affirming the judgment of the district court.

Full Opinion

-Samantha James