Labor relations between an employer and a union are typically defined in a Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) between the two. The CBA sets forth the parties’ respective rights and obligations with respect to such things as wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. The Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”) grants jurisdiction to the federal district courts for “[s]uits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce.” If resolution of a state law claim turns upon interpretation of the CBA, the claim is preempted and subject to dismissal by the federal court. But “when the meaning of contract terms is not the subject of dispute, the bare fact that a collective-bargaining agreement will be consulted in the course of state-law litigation plainly does not require the claim to be extinguished.”
A recent decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals pointed out the fuzzy line that can sometimes exist between a preempted claim and one that is not. In Adonna v. Sargent Mfg. Co., 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 10343 (2d Cir. May 23, 2012), a union employee brought claims against his employer for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The employer conduct complained of included reassignment, suspension, reduction in pay, and demands not imposed on any other employee. The Court of Appeals concluded that whether or to what extent this conduct was wrongful could be determined only by examining the CBA provisions relating to the employer’s right to manage, direct, and discipline the workforce, and set employee wages. Because the employee’s claims were “inextricably intertwined” with the terms of the CBA they were preempted and properly dismissed by the trial court.
Employers and employees alike should be aware of the extensive preemptive effect of the LMRA. It is the rare state-law tort claim that will not require not only the consultation, but also the interpretation of the relevant CBA, thereby resulting in preemption at the federal level.
The employment law attorneys in the Westport, Connecticut office of Maya Murphy, P.C. have extensive experience in the negotiation and litigation of all sorts of employment-related disputes and assist clients from Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Fairfield in resolving such issues. Please contact our office at 203-221-3100.
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