Is an arbitration provision in a collective bargaining agreement which precludes an employee from bringing a lawsuit in court for an alleged violation of statutory anti-discrimination law enforceable?
Steven Pyett, Thomas O’Connell, and Michael Phillips (the "employees") claim that their employer, Temco Service Industries, Inc., and the company, 14 Penn Plaza, LLC, that owns the building in which they worked, discriminated against them on the basis of their age, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 ("ADEA"). The employees are members of Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ, which negotiated a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") with the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, Inc. ("RAB"), of which Temco and 14 Penn Plaza are members. The CBA stated that the sole and exclusive remedy for all employment discrimination claims, including those brought under the ADEA, is the union’s grievance and arbitration procedure. The issue in this case is whether a union has the power to bargain away its members’ rights to litigate employment discrimination claims. The employees argue that the answer should be no, while the employers argue the opposite. The outcome of this case will clarify whether a union has the power to waive its members' statutory right to sue their employers in federal court for certain types of discrimination in favor of a mandatory arbitration procedure.
Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties
Is an arbitration clause contained in a collective bargaining agreement, freely negotiated by a union and an employer, which clearly and unmistakably waives the union members’ right to a judicial forum for their statutory discrimination claims, enforceable?
The decision in this case will further crystallize the extent that a union can agree to limit its members access to federal courts to resolve federal antidiscrimination claims. The question at issue is whether an individual employee is precluded from bringing a lawsuit in federal court because he is a member of a union subject to a collective bargaining agreement that mandates arbitration as the sole form of dispute resolution available for employment discrimination claims. The employees argue that arbitration provision is invalid and that they are not precluded from bringing suit in federal court. The employers, however, argue that it is permissible to restrict the forum available to an individual’s statutory rights to that of arbitration. The Supreme Court’s ruling will have a significant impact on employees who are subject to union negotiated arbitration clauses, and on employers looking to expand the scope of enforceable arbitration clauses.
· 2005 Commercial Building Agreement between Local 32BJ Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO and The Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, Inc. (Effective Oct. 31, 2004-Dec. 31, 2007)