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Baldracchi v. Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Division

decided: March 17, 1987.

CHRISTINE BALDRACCHI, APPELLANT,
v.
PRATT & WHITNEY AIRCRAFT DIVISION, UNITED TECHNOLOGIES CORPORATION, APPELLEE



Appeal from order of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, Alan H. Nevas, J., denying motion to remand and dismissing wrongful discharge complaint because the state claim was preempted by section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act.

Feinberg, Chief Judge, Lumbard and Miner, Circuit Judges.

Author: Feinberg

FEINBERG, Chief Judge:

This case presents the important question whether section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. § 185, which gives federal courts jurisdiction over suits alleging violations of collective bargaining agreements, preempts an action by a union member under a state statute that prohibits the discharge of an employee for filing a workers' compensation claim. The discharged employee, Christine Baldracchi, appeals from an order of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, Alan H. Nevas, J., denying her motion to remand to the state court and granting defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint. Because we believe that Baldracchi's action is not preempted by section 301 of the LMRA, we reverse and remand with instructions to remand to the state court.

I. Background

The facts relevant to this appeal are uncomplicated. Baldracchi filed suit in the Superior Court of the State of Connecticut claiming that she had been wrongfully discharged by Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Division of United Technologies Corporation (Pratt & Whitney) for filing a workers' compensation claim. Prior to her discharge, Baldracchi was employed by Pratt & Whitney under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement between Pratt & Whitney and Lodge 1746, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Her complaint alleged that by firing her, Pratt & Whitney had violated Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-290a, which prohibits employers subject to the statute from discharging an employee for filing a claim for workers' compensation benefits and provides civil remedies for violation of the statute.*fn1

Pratt & Whitney removed the action to the United States District Court arguing that, since Baldracchi was covered by a collective bargaining agreement while she worked for Pratt & Whitney, her wrongful discharge suit must be construed as claiming a violation of that agreement. Therefore, Pratt & Whitney contended, her action presents a federal question arising under section 301 of the LMRA. In the district court, Baldracchi moved to remand the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, while Pratt & Whitney moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The district court, holding that "plaintiff's cause of action has been preempted by federal law," denied the motion to remand and granted the motion to dismiss the complaint.

II. Discussion

The resolution of this appeal turns on the question whether section 301 of the LMRA preempts Baldracchi's claim under the Connecticut statute. If it does, the district court acted correctly in denying the motion to remand and applying federal law; dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted was also proper because, under federal law, Baldracchi would first have to utilize the grievance procedure provided in the collective bargaining agreement. Conversely, if section 301 does not preempt her claim under the Connecticut statute, Baldracchi has a right to pursue it in state court, and the district court should have remanded the suit.

Congress' authority to preempt state law derives from the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. See Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 1, 210-11, 6 L. Ed. 23 (1824). Since Congress has not exercised its authority to occupy the entire field of labor law, "the question whether a certain state action is preempted by federal law is one of congressional intent." Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202, 208, 85 L. Ed. 2d 206, 105 S. Ct. 1904 (1985). The issue thus becomes whether Congress intended to preempt state statutes that protect workers' compensation actions when it enacted Section 301 of the LMRA.

Section 301 provides subject matter jurisdiction to the federal courts for suits involving violations of collective bargaining agreements.*fn2 In cases where section 301 is the basis of jurisdiction, it also requires that courts apply federal common law to determine the meaning of the agreement. Teamsters v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U.S. 95, 103-04, 7 L. Ed. 2d 593, 82 S. Ct. 571 (1962). Thus, the Supreme Court has held that section 301 preempts a state claim when "resolution of a state-law claim is substantially dependent upon analysis of the terms of [a collective bargaining] agreement." Allis-Chalmers, 471 U.S. at 220. Pratt & Whitney argues that section 301 preemption is mandated here because adjudication of the state claim will require reference to the collective bargaining agreement. In pressing this fundamental contention in a number of ways, Pratt & Whitney relies principally on Allis-Chalmers v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202, 85 L. Ed. 2d 206, 105 S. Ct. 1904.

In Allis-Chalmers, the Court held that plaintiff's suit alleging a state law tort of bad-faith handling of an insurance claim by an employer was preempted by section 301. Plaintiff, an employee of Allis-Chalmers, was covered by a collective bargaining agreement that provided for payment of insurance benefits for non-occupational injuries. Plaintiff suffered a non-occupational injury and sued Allis-Chalmers for bad-faith handling of his insurance claim. Although he did receive benefits, plaintiff contended that Allis-Chalmers had acted in bad faith by periodically ordering the insurance company to cut off its payments to him.

The Court concluded that plaintiff's claim was dependent upon the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. It pointed out that interpretation of the labor agreement would determine "whether there was an obligation . . . to provide the payments in a timely manner," and thus whether Allis-Chalmers' action in suspending those payments constituted bad faith. The Court pointed out further that "if the arbitrator ruled that the labor agreement did not provide [relief for improper payment of benefits], that too should end the dispute, for under Wisconsin law there is nothing that suggests that it is not within the power of the parties to determine what would constitute 'reasonable' performance of their obligations under an insurance contract." 471 U.S. at 215-16. Thus, the insurance tort in Allis-Chalmers "not only derive[d] from the contract, but [was] defined by the contractual obligation of good faith." 471 U.S. at 218. This dependence of the state claim on the labor agreement mandated preemption under section 301.

In contrast to the tort in Allis-Chalmers, Baldracchi's suit is independent of the collective bargaining agreement. Her claim of retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim does not turn on interpretation of that agreement. At trial, Baldracchi would have to present a prima facie case that she was in fact fired for filing a workers' compensation claim. See 2A A. Larson, The Law of Workmen's Compensation § 68.36(c) (1986). In its ...


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