If you belong to a labor union, your collective bargaining agreement may provide for mandatory arbitration for any disputes arising under the contract. Such arbitration provisions do not necessarily cover violations of your statutory rights under federal and state employment laws, such as the legal prohibitions against discrimination based on your age, race, or disability. You may still be able to litigate such civil rights claims independent of any arbitration proceeding required by your union.
MTA Fined by Judge for Obstructing Ex-Bus Driver's Lawsuit
Here is an illustration of this separation principle. This is taken from a judicial opinion in an ongoing employment discrimination lawsuit before a federal court in Brooklyn. The plaintiff worked as a bus driver for the MTA. Following a 2016 medical incident, his supervisors refused to allow him to return to work as a bus driver, even though he was medically cleared to do so. Instead, the plaintiff was reassigned to work as a janitor, a position with lesser pay and benefits.
The plaintiff pursued both arbitration under his union contract and a lawsuit alleging age and disability discrimination. (The plaintiff maintains he was also not allowed to return to work because he was over 50.) The arbitration resulted in an order of reinstatement with back pay. The MTA subsequently moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing in part the arbitration award precluded further relief.
The court disagreed. In a February 12 order, the judge presiding over the case explained that under longstanding U.S. Supreme Court precedent, employment “[d]iscrimination claims are substantively distinct from the type of contract dispute claims typically resolved by collective bargaining arbitration.” In other words, while some rights are created by the terms of an employment contract, others are required by statute. The latter includes protections against workplace discrimination based on certain protected characteristics.
As the Supreme Court has said, “no inconsistency results from permitting both rights to be enforced in their respectively appropriate forums.” This is true even when the arbitration and the lawsuit are based on the same events, as is the case here. Indeed, part of the plaintiff's discrimination allegations involve alleged retaliation by the MTA after he initiated his lawsuit.
It should also be noted the judge sanctioned the MTA for its refusal to participate in a court-ordered settlement conference related to the plaintiff's litigation. According to the judge, the federal magistrate overseeing the conference had directed the MTA “to send someone with full settlement authority” to the meeting. Instead, the MTA's general counsel sent a subordinate with strict instructions not to negotiate. The magistrate sanctioned the MTA $250. The judge thought this was insufficient. Based on the MTA's “baseless objection” to the magistrate's decision, the judge increased the sanction to $1,000, which was payable to the plaintiff's attorney.
Do Not Let Your Employer Violate Your Rights
Employers often use obstructionist tactics in litigation, hoping an exasperated employee will simply give up. You should not be deprived of your day in court. If you have suffered illegal job discrimination at work and need assistance from an experienced New York employment attorney, contact the Law Offices of White, Nisar & Hilferty, LLP, at 646.760.6493 today.