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Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, Local 2001 v. Spirit Aerosystems, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

September 17, 2013

SOCIETY OF PROFESSIONAL ENGINEERING EMPLOYEES IN AEROSPACE, LOCAL 2001, INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF PROFESSIONAL AND TECHNICAL EMPLOYEES, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
SPIRIT AEROSYSTEMS, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

D.C. No. 6:12-CV-01180-JTM-GLR (D. Kan.)

Before HOLMES, HOLLOWAY, and BACHARACH, Circuit Judges.

ORDER AND JUDGMENT [*]

Robert E. Bacharach Circuit Judge

Spirit Aerosystems, Inc. entered into collective-bargaining agreements with the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, Local 2001. The agreements allow represented employees to file grievances with Spirit and to compel arbitration if they are dissatisfied with the way that the company responded to such grievances. The union can file union-wide grievances and compel arbitration if the matter involves lockouts.

The problem here is that the union filed grievances that did not involve lockouts. Instead, the grievances related to Spirit's processes for evaluating employee performance. Dissatisfied with Spirit's responses to the grievances, the union sued in federal district court to compel arbitration. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the court held as a matter of law that the dispute was not arbitrable. Concluding that the district court properly refused to compel arbitration, we affirm.

I. THE FOUR-STEP GRIEVANCE PROCESS

The collective-bargaining agreements contain a progressive four-step grievance procedure. In the first step, an employee brings an oral complaint to his immediate supervisor. A dissatisfied employee may appeal in three successive steps: In Step Two, the employee files a written complaint to the employee's supervisor; in Step Three, the grievance can be appealed to human resources; and in Step Four, the employee can appeal the decision of human resources by invoking binding-arbitration. Aplt. App. Vol. III at 323-25; see also id. at 435-37.

The four-step process is qualified by a separate provision for lockouts: When the union wishes to address an alleged lockout, it can utilize the grievance process and skip the first two steps. Id. at 358; see also id. at 482.

II. THE UNION'S GRIEVANCES

The union submitted two grievances, alleging that it was not consulted when Spirit changed its method of evaluating employees. Id., Vol. II at 139-42. Spirit denied the grievances on three grounds: (1) The union can only use the grievance process when addressing an alleged lockout; (2) the agreements exclude disputes about employee evaluations from the usual grievance process; and (3) the union's allegations were invalid on the merits.

The union responded by demanding arbitration. After reaching an impasse with Spirit about the availability of arbitration, the union sued in federal court to compel Spirit to arbitrate the grievances.

The district court granted summary judgment to Spirit on two grounds: (1) The "individualized nature" of the grievance procedure limited the union to arbitration for alleged lockouts; and (2) the agreements state that the grievance procedure does not cover disputes over employee-performance plans.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When we review an award of summary judgment, we apply the same standard that governed in the district court. Commc'n Workers v. Avaya, Inc., 693 F.3d 1295, 1300 (10th Cir. 2012). Summary judgment is appropriate when "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant ...


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