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Loss of overtime no basis for bias lawsuit

Mineta Calls For A New "Turnraround CEO" To Lead AmtrakA railroad worker could not sue for racial discrimination based on his claim that he received fewer opportunities for overtime hours than some of his colleagues, a U.S. District Court judge has held.

The defendant employer, Amtrak, argued that its overtime schedule attempts to ensure that OT is distributed equitably, in accordance with a collective bargaining agreement.

Judge Mary M. Lisi agreed.

“In sum, there is no evidence to support [the plaintiff]’s contention that his alleged decrease in opportunities for selecting overtime slots was the result of race-based discrimination or that the overtime distribution plan was changed based on an illegal discrimination criterion, nor does [the plaintiff] refute Amtrak’s proffered reason that the overtime distribution scheme is intended to ensure that overtime is distributed equitably,” Lisi wrote.

The 22-page decision is Garmon v. Amtrak, Lawyers Weekly No. 52-037-15. The full text of the ruling can be found by clicking here.

The plaintiff was represented by Christopher J. Trombetta of Mansfield, Massachusetts. Defense counsel was Providence attorney Thomas J. McAndrew and Boston attorneys Lisa S. Burton and Peter J. Mee.

Overtime assignments

Plaintiff Gregory Garmon Sr. was hired by Amtrak in 1997 as a signal helper, and later promoted to electric traction lineman.

Between 2003 and February 2015, the first shift for the Amtrak Electric Traction Department in Providence included Garmon, Christopher Alves and William Butler, both of whom, unlike the plaintiff, were qualified as high rail operators, or HROs.

Amtrak’s collective bargaining agreement with the International Brotherhood of

Electrical Workers provides that overtime “be distributed in conjunction with the duly authorized local committee of the craft or of their representative and the local management. Record will be kept of overtime worked and men called with the purpose in view of distributing the overtime equally.”

According to the plaintiff, beginning in fall 2012, the union allowed HROs to fill slots available for HROs. In addition, employees with foreman qualifications could apply for overtime slots designated for foremen. As a result, a foreman could now work overtime, whereas before the alleged change, a foreman could not have filled that overtime slot unless Garmon, Alves and Butler had first rejected it.

“Garmon asserts that Amtrak engages in discrimination against Garmon (the sole lineman) by making overtime slots available to HROs and foremen, and keeping linemen out of the positions (or, more accurately, giving lower priority to linemen for selecting certain slots),” Lisi said.

Amtrak employees were given an opportunity to select overtime based on their respective shifts, positions and locations. First-shift employees were given preference for first-shift overtime, provided they were qualified for the position posted, e.g., a first-shift HRO could select an HRO slot; a lineman could do so only if no HRO had selected the slot first, according to Lisi.

According to the plaintiff, beginning in fall 2012, day shift supervisor Gregory Brennan began assigning overtime by position as well as shift, which deprived the plaintiff of OT opportunities because he was a lineman.

“If no lineman, HRO, or foreman selects an overtime shift, a Supervisor or Assistant Supervisor (who are qualified for all positions) may elect the shift to ensure sufficient coverage,” Lisi found.

Weekend overtime was staffed by members of the Boston/Providence cost center to cover both cities and to service the connecting track.

Because the overtime distribution gave priority to HROs from all shifts for HRO slots and included foremen in the rotation, the plaintiff’s opportunities for overtime were reduced.

No prima facie case

“Garmon’s claim is predicated entirely on his contention that, following a change in overtime scheduling, his opportunities for overtime hours decreased,” Lisi said.

“When examined more closely, and undisputed by Garmon, the schedule did not suddenly exclude Garmon from existing slots for overtime work,” the judge found.

Rather, she said, the schedule attempted to ensure that OT was distributed equitably in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement.

“Essentially, it is not the exclusion from overtime opportunity that Garmon complains of, it is the inclusion of other employees who have additional qualifications, like HRO or foreman, who work on a different shift, or who are primarily located in Boston,” the judge stated.

“Garmon had fewer opportunities to work overtime because he was not an HRO (by his own choice), because he worked first shift, and because he was located primarily in Providence,” she added.

Lisi found that, notably, Garmon offered no examples of being denied a slot for which he had priority.

“Under those circumstances, the Court is of the opinion that, based on the undisputed facts of the case, Garmon has not met his burden to establish a prima facie case because he failed to show that (1) he suffered an adverse employment action and/or (2) there was a connection between his membership in a protected class and the allegedly adverse employment action,” she concluded.

CASE: Garmon v. Amtrak, Lawyers Weekly No. 52-037-15

COURT: U.S. District Court

ISSUE: Could a railroad worker sue for racial discrimination based on a claim that a scheduling change resulted in fewer overtime opportunities?

DECISION: No

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