Bowen v. United States Postal Service

RESPONDENT: United States Postal Service
LOCATION: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 81-525
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 459 US 212 (1983)
ARGUED: Oct 06, 1982
DECIDED: Jan 11, 1983

Asher W. Schwartz - on behalf of the Respondent Union
Barbara E. Etkind - on behalf of the federal responding supporting Petitioner
William B. Poff - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Bowen v. United States Postal Service

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 06, 1982 in Bowen v. United States Postal Service

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 11, 1983 in Bowen v. United States Postal Service

Warren E. Burger:

Justice Powell will have two judgments and opinions of the Court to announce.

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

The first of these is 81-525, Bowen against the United States Postal Service.

This case is here from the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The petitioner, Charles Bowen an employee of the Postal Service was discharged for alleged misconduct.

Bowen filed a grievance with his union.

After considerable delay it declined to take the grievance to arbitration.

Bowen then brought suit in the Federal District Court.

He claimed that the Postal Service had discharged him unlawfully and that the Union had breached its duty of fair representation.

The Court found that both the Service and the Union had acted in reckless and callous disregard of Bowen's rights.

The District Court apportioned the amount of Bowen's damages primarily his lost backpay between them.

The Court of Appeals accepted the District Court's findings of breaches by both parties but nevertheless overturned the damages award against the Union.

We think that the Court of Appeals erred in rejecting apportionment of damages.

We hold that when both the employer and the Union have breached their obligations under the bargaining agreement, the damage it sustained should be apportioned between the two wrongdoers.

In this case, where the Union's default resulted in a substantial increase in the damages suffered by Bowen, we agree that the Union is primarily responsible for that increase.

We accordingly reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Our holding reaffirms the governing principle announced in Vaca against Sipes.

Damages attributed solely to the employer's breach of contract should not be charged to the union, but increases in those damages resulting solely from the union's wrongdoing should not be charged to the employer.

Justice White filed an opinion concurring in part in the judgment and dissenting in part in which Justices Marshall and Blackmun joined.

And in all but Part IV of which Justice Rehnquist joined.

Justice Rehnquist filed a dissenting opinion.