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Figueroa v. Foster

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

July 25, 2017

HECTOR J. FIGUEROA, President, SEIU Local 32BJ, CTW, CLC, Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant,
v.
COMMISSIONER HELEN D. FOSTER, New York State Division of Human Rights, Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee.

          Argued: April 19, 2017

         Appeal from the May 12, 2016 order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Woods, J.) granting summary judgment to SEIU Local 32BJ, CTW, CLC. Figueroa v. Foster, No. 1:14-cv-8796, 2016 WL 2851335 (S.D.N.Y. May 12, 2016).

         In this case, we are asked to decide whether the duty of fair representation under the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA") preempts the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL") for claims of discrimination filed by a union member against a labor organization when the labor organization is acting in its capacity as a collective bargaining representative (as distinguished from when it is acting in its capacity as an employer). If the NLRA's duty of fair representation preempts the NYSHRL, then Title VII as administered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will serve as the primary force protecting union members from invidious discrimination by their labor organizations. If, on the other hand, the NLRA's duty of fair representation does not preempt the NYSHRL, then the NYSHRL as administered by the New York State Division of Human Rights will provide union members with additional protections against invidious discrimination by their labor organizations.

         Because we hold that the NLRA's duty of fair representation does not necessarily preempt the NYSHRL, even when a labor organization is acting in its capacity as a collective bargaining agent, in the circumstances of this case, we reverse.

         Reversed.

          ANDREW RHYS DAVIES, Assistant Solicitor General (Barbara D. Underwood, Solicitor General, Steven C. Wu, Deputy Solicitor General, on the brief), for Eric T. Schneiderman, Attorney General of the State of New York, New York, NY, for Defendant-Appellant-Cross- Appellee.

          JAMES REIF, Gladstein, Reif & Meginniss, LLP (Jessica E. Harris, on the brief), New York, NY, for Plaintiff- Appellee-Cross-Appellant.

          Before: CALABRESI, POOLER, and WESLEY, Circuit Judges.

          POOLER, Circuit Judge

         Appeal from the May 12, 2016 order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Woods, J.) granting summary judgment to SEIU Local 32BJ, CTW, CLC. Figueroa v. Foster, No. 1:14-cv-8796, 2016 WL 2851335 (S.D.N.Y. May 12, 2016).

         In this case, we are asked to decide whether the duty of fair representation under the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA") preempts the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL") for claims of discrimination filed by a union member against a labor organization when the labor organization is acting in its capacity as a collective bargaining representative (as distinguished from when it is acting in its capacity as an employer). If the NLRA's duty of fair representation preempts the NYSHRL, then Title VII as administered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") will serve as the primary force protecting union members from invidious discrimination by their labor organizations. If, on the other hand, the NLRA's duty of fair representation does not preempt the NYSHRL, then the NYSHRL as administered by the New York State Division of Human Rights will provide union members with additional protections against invidious discrimination by their labor organizations.

         Because we hold that the NLRA's duty of fair representation does not necessarily preempt the NYSHRL, even when a labor organization is acting in its capacity as a collective bargaining agent, in the circumstances of this case, we reverse.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Factual Background

         Defendant-Appellant-Cross-Appellee Commissioner Helen D. Foster (the "Commissioner") is the Commissioner of the New York State Division of Human Rights ("SDHR"). The SDHR is responsible for the administrative enforcement of the NYSHRL. The NYSHRL prohibits the commission of specific unlawful discriminatory practices, including retaliatory conduct, by entities including labor organizations. The SDHR has promulgated regulations for the enforcement of the NYSHRL.

         Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant Hector J. Figueroa is the President of SEIU Local 32BJ, CTW, CLC (the "Local"). The Local is a labor organization that is constituted for the primary purposes of collective bargaining and of dealing with employers concerning grievances, labor disputes, and terms or conditions of employment. The Local currently represents more than 145, 000 employees for the purpose of collective bargaining, of which more than 81, 000 currently work in the State of New York.

         Every collective bargaining agreement to which the Local is a party includes a grievance or arbitration mechanism for resolving disputes, including disputes about employee discipline. When an employee has a dispute with his or her employer, that employee first files a grievance with the Local's Contract & Grievance Center (the "CGC"). If the CGC decides not to pursue an employee grievance with the employer, the employee can appeal to the Local's Grievance Appeal Board (the "GAB"). The GAB then makes findings and a recommendation to the Local's Executive Board over whether to uphold or overturn the CGC's decision not to pursue the employee's grievance.

         Between June 1, 2009 and November 4, 2014 when the Local commenced this action, sixteen individuals filed complaints with the SDHR alleging one or more violations of the NYSHRL by the Local. Between November 4, 2014 and April 6, 2016, five additional complaints were filed with the SDHR alleging one or more violations of the NYSHRL by the Local. Each complaint included at least one allegation that the Local "failed to demand arbitration, failed to handle an arbitration properly, or engaged in some other discriminatory [or retaliatory] conduct as the [complainant's] collective bargaining representative, in violation of the [NYS]HRL." App'x at 631. All but one of the complaints were dual filed with the EEOC as the discrimination alleged violated both the NYSHRL and federal law, including Title VII.

         The SDHR investigated the merits of each complaint and made a determination regarding whether there was probable cause to believe the Local had committed or was committing an unlawful discriminatory practice in violation of the NYSHRL. The Local, for its part, contested the jurisdiction of the SDHR over each complaint, asserting that the duty of fair representation arising from the NLRA preempted the NYSHRL and deprived the SDHR of jurisdiction.

         As of April 6, 2016, the SDHR had dismissed sixteen of the twenty-one complaints for lack of probable cause to believe the Local had engaged in the alleged discrimination. Three complaints were withdrawn by the complainants. An additional two complaints remained pending.

         II. Procedural Background

         On November 4, 2014, Figueroa, in his role as President of the Local, filed a complaint against the Commissioner in the United States District ...


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