Phila. judge affirms summary judgment for defendants in case of union sued by former workers

Jon Campisi Jan. 20, 2012, 10:27am

A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge has affirmed an earlier decision by the court to grant summary judgment to a bridge and ironworkers’ union which claimed that a settlement agreement in a case where workers alleged they were deprived of job opportunities and earnings based on race, was not accepted in a timely manner.

In a Jan. 18 ruling, Judge Allan L. Tereshko wrote that the plaintiffs Leonard Brundage, Walter Franklin and Christian Williams were not entitled to a previous settlement agreement because they waited too long to accept the offer.

The plaintiffs had filed suit in late September 2010 against the International Association of Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Ironworkers, Cornell & Company Inc., Roma Steel, Northwest Erectors Inc., Bensalem Steel Erectors Inc. and Delaware Valley Erectors Inc.

The lawsuit alleged a breach of settlement agreement on the part of the defendants, which had arisen out of a previous lawsuit filed by the plaintiffs in early September 2000 in federal court in Philadelphia.

That initial lawsuit claimed that the plaintiffs were denied job opportunities and earnings because of race.

After a mid-December 2007 settlement conference, the defendants agreed to pay the plaintiffs $45,000, in exchange for the plaintiffs agreeing not to use the union hiring hall for referrals or ever again seek employment with the defendants.

Counsel for the defendants soon sent plaintiffs’ counsel settlement papers, but they were never signed, since the plaintiffs disagreed with the “no right to rehire” provision contained within the settlement.

New terms were offered, but the parties could never come to agreement on the alternatives.

At first, only one out of the three plaintiffs agreed to the revised settlement, and eventually all three agreed to sign.

Because this didn’t happen until October 23, 2009, a full 22 months after the settlement conference, the defendants subsequently refused to pay out the earlier agreed upon settlement amount.

In the fall of 2010, the plaintiffs filed their breach of settlement agreement lawsuit, which was answered by a motion for summary judgment filed by the defendants.

In his opinion, Judge Tereshko wrote that because the settlement agreement was not accepted within a reasonable time, “Plaintiffs no longer possessed the power to accept.”

“The 22-month lapse between the settlement conference and the return of the signed Settlement Agreement and Release was clearly unreasonable and thus constituted a question of law for the court,” Tereshko wrote. “After two out of the three Plaintiffs rejected the no right to rehire provision, there was no communication between counsel for the parties for a period of 18 months, entitling counsel for Defendants to believe that the time for acceptance had lapsed.”

In affirming the court’s earlier summary judgment ruling for the defendants, Tereshko said the court believes the plaintiffs’ “power of acceptance was terminated by either their rejection of the settlement agreement and counteroffer proposing substitutes for the no right to rehire provision, or in the alternative, by the lapse of 22 months between the original offer and the attempted acceptance.”

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