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Peck v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

October 15, 2014

LILA JEAN PECK, Plaintiff,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD CO. AND UNITED TRANSPORTATION UNION DISCIPLINE/INCOME PROTECTION PROGRAM, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

B. LYNN WINMILL, Chief District Judge.

Before the Court are the following motions: (1) Plaintiff Lila Jean Peck's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on the Administrative Record (Dkt. 18); (2) Defendant United Transportation Union Discipline Income Protection Program's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 24); and (3) Defendant Union Pacific's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Dkt. 27).

The Discipline Income Protection Program is a voluntary program provided through the United Transportation Union, which is the certified representative of Union Pacific train service employees. The Plan allows for certain payments in the event covered employees are disciplined in their permanent employment. The Plan, however, contains certain exceptions and qualifications, one being that there is no coverage while an employee remains in probationary status.

On November 9, 2012, Union Pacific rejected Peck's employment application. The letter rejecting her application stated that she was still in her probationary period. Peck later applied for benefits under the Plan. The Plan denied her claim, noting that she was removed from service by the carrier before she had completed her probationary period. After exhausting her appeals, Peck filed this case. She contends that the Plan's Review Committee mistakenly denied her claim. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Peck's summary-judgment motion and grant Defendants' motions.

BACKGROUND

On June 6, 2011, Peck started training to become an official Train Service employee for the Defendant Union Pacific Railroad. "Train Service" employee is a general title for brakemen, servicemen, conductors, and foremen. Training at Union Pacific for Train Service employees usually lasts, at a minimum, 14 weeks. Duffy Memo. at 1279, UPPR's Ex. B, Dkt. 26-2.

As noted above, the United Transportation Union ("UTU") is the certified representative of Union Pacific train service employees, and it makes available to its members a separate trust plan known as the United Transportation Discipline Income Protection Program ("DIPP" or "the Plan"). The Plan is structured in accordance with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), and provides for certain payments in the event an employee is disciplined in their permanent employment and suffers a wage loss. The employee selects the level of coverage they wish to have and pays the requisite monthly payment.

To qualify for DIPP benefits, Union Pacific employees must successfully complete a "probationary period." 1978 Agreement, UTU's Ex. 1, Dkt. 24-3. When Peck started training at Union Pacific, the national collective bargaining agreement between UTU and Union Pacific required applicants who wished to complete their "probationary period" to wait 60 days until after they established their "seniority date." Id. An applicant established their seniority date by passing the required Transportation Department examinations. Id.

On August 6, 2011, Peck passed her Conductor Operating Rules Exam, which established her "seniority date" as a Switchman, Brakeman, Conductor and Foreman. HR Report Doc., Ex. E, Dkt. 26-5. According to the 1978 collective bargaining agreement, Peck's 60 days to complete the probationary period began to run. Ten days later, on August 16, 2011, Union Pacific furloughed Peck before she completed her probationary period. Peck's Work History at 55, Ex. F, Dkt. 26-6. She did not return to Union Pacific until July 23, 2012, about 11 months later.

During Peck's furlough, Union Pacific and UTU renegotiated the national collective bargaining agreement, including the probationary status provision. 2011 Agreement, p. 2, UPPR's Ex. D, Dkt. 26-4. Specifically, the probationary status provision was amended to read as follows:

"Upon completing training and protecting the first tour of compensated service, an additional sixty (60) days shall commence extending the time during which the carrier may reject the application for employment. Applications rejected by the carrier must be declined in writing to the applicant during his/her probationary period or application shall be considered accepted."

Because of this policy change, applicants now complete their probationary period 60 days after they complete both their training and "protect their first tour of compensated service." Id.

According to Union Pacific, Train Service employees finish their training when they complete UPRR's standard 14-week training program, which includes in-class and on-the-job instruction. 1998 Duffy Memo., UPRR Ex. B, Dkt. 26-2. After their training, probationary employees "protect their first tour of compensated service" by receiving a call to work in a non-trainee position, accepting the call, and actually working in a ...


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