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Challenge to Stink Bomb Firings Came Too Late

(CN) - UPS employees who allegedly condoned stink-bombing empty vans - an apparent new-employee "rite of passage" - cannot contest their firings, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge L. Felipe Restrepo recounted Thursday the "many indignities" that the Philadelphia airport has faced in the past, such as the security lines and boarding mobs of 2006 and 2007.

But travelers "likely remained oblivious to a different plague of that time: a rash of 'stink bombs' released at the UPS airport facility."

That "plague" ultimately led United Parcel Service employee William Ward and three of his colleagues to sue the postal company in 2011, alleging "wrongful termination and failure to promote in violation of public policy."

The complaint alleged that workers released stink bombs in empty company vans as a "rite of passage" for new hires in years past.

When Ward's supervisor pegged one of his crew, Erik Diem, as a possible culprit behind a stink bomb discharged in the summer of 2006, Ward warned Diem that he "did not want it to happen again," according to the complaint.

But after another bomb went off in January 2007, Diem allegedly admitted responsibility and was fired.

Ward meanwhile refused to sign a notarized affidavit stating that Diem was responsible for the 2006 incident, and instead submitted the "truthful statement" that he did not know who was to blame, the complaint states.

As a result, Ward says he was fired by June 29, 2007, under the pretext that he had purportedly failed to timely load an airplane.

Ward's colleagues and co-plaintiffs, James McQuade, Jovanny Padin and Vasken Sarkahian, later claimed that after expressing support for Ward and Diem, UPS managers warned the trio "to retract their statements" and told them that "their 'stocks had dropped.'"

The managers then allegedly denied McQuade, Padin and Sarkahian promotions for which they had been trained, and subjected them to special scrutiny and general harassment.

Judge Restrepo in Phailadelphia awarded UPS summary judgment Thursday, finding that Ward and Sarkahian's departure from UPS in mid-2007 subjected their claims to the state constitution's two-year statute of limitations.

"The alleged injuries were complete no later than the end of 2007, when both had ceased employment with UPS, and the plaintiffs did not file suit until June of 2011," Restrepo wrote. "There is no dispute of material fact. UPS is entitled to judgment as a matter of law with respect to Ward and Sarkahian's claims; the court will therefore grant summary judgment in its favor."

McQuade and Padin's claims also failed.

"Neither McQuade nor Padin has alleged that he was terminated at all," Restrepo wrote. "McQuade apparently left his employment with UPS after a stroke. The complaint does not specify whether Padin ever ceased to work for UPS or still does."

An adverse employment action cannot support a Title VII claim, the judge ruled.

"The plaintiffs have identified no Pennsylvania case suggesting or supporting a common-law claim for failure to promote (or other adverse employment action short of discharge) in contravention of public policy," Restrepo wrote (parentheses in original). "This court is not at liberty to invent one. Because neither McQuade nor Padin claims to have been terminated from his employment, neither has stated a claim for wrongful discharge, and UPS is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."

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