Sunday, January 8, 2012

Eighth Circuit applies Pyett, sends FMLA claim to arbitration

           The Eighth Circuit has affirmed a district court’s decision dismissing plaintiff’s FMLA claim, sending the claim instead to arbitration. Thomson v Air Transport International LLC.

            Plaintiff was employed as a pilot by ATI. In early 2009 he missed eight weeks of work because of illness and related surgery. His employment was terminated after his return to work, allegedly because of a violation of operational procedures. He filed suit claiming the termination was in retaliation for his taking sick leave, in violation of the FMLA. 

            ATI moved to dismiss, arguing that the claims were subject to mandatory arbitration under the collective bargaining agreement covering his position. That agreement provided in relevant part:
                    [C]laims of discrimination arising within the employment relationship between Company and the Crewmembers, whether such claims are made under the collective bargaining agreement or in state or federal court and alleged to be violations of state or federal law ... are to be addressed, resolved  and finalized solely under Section V- Grievance and/or [Section] VI-Arbitration of the Agreement... 

          Plaintiff claimed that the mandatory arbitration provision was part of an unconsionable waiver of his FMLA rights, pointing to language of the Agreement that "each Crewmember waives each and every cause of action and remedies provided under these statutes and common law frameworks."

          Rejecting this claim, the Court noted that, when read in context ,the language plaintiff pointed to was not a waiver of substantive rights, but instead was a waiver of a judicial forum. The Court further noted that the Suprreme Court held in 14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett that such a waiver could be made by a union as part of a collective bargaining agreement. As a result, the Court affirmed the dismissal of the lawsuit.

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