Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sometimes, It Doesn't Matter What The Contract Says

Just when I got finished lecturing on the need to observe the express terms and conditions of contractual language (see my post entitled You, Me And The Contract Makes Three), I read about the case of Kravar v. Triangle Services Inc., 06 Civ. 7858 (S.D.N.Y. - 9/17/07). Talk about incongruity.

In Kravar, the Plaintiff brought an action against her former employer alleging national origin and disability discrimination under Federal and State law. The Amended Complaint sought damages, reinstatement to Plaintiff’s former position and ancillary relief. The Defendant moved to dismiss or stay the action on the ground that the Plaintiff, as a member of Local 32BJ, had waived her right to bring such discrimination claims since the operative collective bargaining agreement with Plaintiff’s union provided that arbitration was the sole and exclusive remedy available to Plaintiff.

The District Court denied the Defendant’s Motion, and held that the clause in the union-negotiated collective bargaining agreement mandating arbitration of Plaintiff's claims was unenforceable under both Federal and State law. In so holding, the Court looked to the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 51 (1974) which held that a collective bargaining agreement cannot waive an employee's right to bring a Title VII claim in Federal court. It also looked to the Second Circuit’s holding in Rogers v. New York University, 220 F.3d 73, 75 (2d Cir. 2000) which affirmed a District Court ruling that a union-negotiated arbitration clause purporting to waive a plaintiff's right to bring a discrimination claim in Federal court under the Americans with Disabilities Act was unenforceable. Those cases, together with other recent Supreme Court and Second Circuit precedent cited by the District Court (which applied non-arbitrability to both Federal and State claims), supported its holding in Kravar.

In cases such as this, the question arises as to whether judicial intrusion into the collective bargaining process is appropriate. Such interference, despite its good intentions, may serve to undermine significantly the sense of certainty which parties require in the labor-management arena as individual union members may act unilaterally and without any impediment in contravention of the collective bargaining agreement. Can anyone say “chaos?”

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