Dawn Polk v. Amtrak National Railroad Passenger Corporation, No. 22-1912 (4th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff, an African American woman, worked as a conductor for Amtrak National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak). During her employment, she belonged to a division of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) union, which maintained a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with Amtrak. Plaintiff brought the instant lawsuit pro se. She named Amtrak and the company’s director of employee relations as Defendants, along with three other Amtrak colleagues. Plaintiff asserted state-law claims of breach of contract and tort, as well as a federal claim of racial discrimination in violation of Title VII. Defendants moved to dismiss, and Plaintiff moved for summary judgment as well as for leave to amend her complaint. The district court granted Defendants’ motion and denied Plaintiff’s two motions. The district court held that Plaintiff’s claims were subject to arbitration under the Railway Labor Act (RLA).
The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that it declines to unwind a statutory scheme without a clear congressional directive to do so. Plaintiff argued that at least her particular claim is not a minor dispute. The mere fact that Plaintiff’s claim arises under Title VII does not disqualify that claim from being a minor dispute within the RLA’s ambit. The thrust of Plaintiff’s Title VII claim is that Amtrak deviated from its policies when dealing with her. While Plaintiff’s allegations as to her own treatment are factual, those concerning Amtrak’s policies directly implicate the relevant CBA between Plaintiff’s union, SMART, and Amtrak. That some of Plaintiff’s interpretive disagreements concern the Drug-Free Program does not alter the character of her claim.