The plaintiff, Gurumurthy Kalyanaram (“Kalyanaram”), was a professor in the School of Management at the New York Institute of Technology (“NYIT”) and a union member of the American Association of University Professors (“the Union”). In 2007, following an investigation into sexual harassment and racial discrimination complaints by students, NYIT terminated Kalyanaram. Kalyanaram challenged the termination through arbitration, provided for in the Union’s collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”). The arbitration culminated in a decision that there was just cause under the CBA to terminate Kalyanaram. In October 2009, the arbitrator issued a Final Award adopting the earlier decision. The arbitrator later issued additional orders for NYIT to comply with provisions allowing Kalyanaram interim pay and letters of recommendation to potential employers.
Kalyanaram filed a petition in New York Supreme Court to vacate the Final Award, but the court denied his petition. Nine months after the Final Award, while Kalyanaram’s appeals in state court were still pending, he filed a complaint against the Union alleging breach of the duty of fair representation during the arbitration. The district court dismissed Kalyanaram’s claim as time-barred, and Kalyanaram appealed.
The circuit court noted that the appropriate statute of limitations for claims against unions for breach of the fair duty of representation (“DFR” claims) is six months and accrues when the plaintiff knew or reasonably should have known that a breach has occurred. The court held that since Kalyanaram’s complaint was that the Union failed to adequately represent him during arbitration, his DFR claim accrued on the date of the Final Award.
The court first rejected Kalyanaram’s argument that the claim did not accrue until the Final Award was confirmed in state court. The language in the CBA that “the decision of the arbitrator shall be final and binding subject to appeal by either party” did not mean that the arbitration process was not final until confirmed by the courts, but only that parties could later appeal the final decision to the courts.
Next, the court rejected Kalyanaram’s claim that the statute of limitations was tolled during the state court proceedings. Although the issue was one of first impression, tolling is not available where a plaintiff simply pursues parallel avenues of relief. The court found that Kalyanaram’s claims were parallel because a suit to vacate an arbitration award in state court may be pursued independently of a DFR claim against a union, the purposes of the two areas of relief differ, and the result is in harmony with public policy favoring the prompt resolution of labor disputes.
Finally, the court rejected Kalyanaram’s claim that the Final Award was not actually final, since the arbitrator later issued supplemental awards. The subsequent awards merely carried out the provisions of the Final Award. Kalyanaram’s DFR claim accrued when the arbitrator issued the Final Award, and the circuit court affirmed the judgment below.
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2013 WL 6482578 (2d Cir. 2013)