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Can a Union Member Bring a Discrimination Claim in Court?

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One of the issues that have come up in recent years involves Title VII discrimination claims and whether a union collective bargaining agreement or CBA prevents such a discrimination claim from being brought in court. That generally provides a grievance procedure for union employees covered by the CBA. In a recent case out of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, a Hispanic employee had filed a sex discrimination case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against her employer, UPS. UPS moved to dismiss the case because it claimed she should have “grieved” it under the CBA her union had with UPS.

The Federal Appeals Court found that the employee had separate statutory and contractual rights and that, in submitting a grievance to arbitration, the employee seeks to vindicate the contractual rights under the CBA. By contrast, in filing a lawsuit under Title VII, an employee asserts independent statutory rights created by Congress. The bottom line is that in the absence of a crystal clear CBA provision that mandates employees to go through the grievance procedure for their federal statutory rights there are parallel lines that don’t cross in terms of remedies.

While there are some conflicting opinions in this area it is generally the law that disputes regarding the construction of the CBA contract are handled through grievances and arbitration but that structure is not sufficient to waive an employee’s right to go court to decide their statutory Title VII claims.

If you believe you have been discriminated against, please contact one of our attorneys at (603) 288-1403 or complete our online contact form.