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Berda v. CBS

filed: July 20, 1989; As Corrected October 6, 1989.

MARTIN W. BERDA, AND LINDA BERDA, HIS WIFE, APPELLANTS
v.
CBS INC., A CORPORATION, APPELLEES



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil No. 88-0411.

Gibbons, Chief Judge, Becker and Weis, Chief Judges.

Author: Becker

Opinion OF THE COURT

BECKER, Circuit Judge

This case involves the circuit-splitting question whether state contract and tort claims for monetary relief brought by a bargaining unit employee against his employer based upon alleged misrepresentations of job security, made before the employee became a member of the bargaining unit which confer additional rights to those afforded by the collective bargaining agreement, are preempted by section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. ยง 185(a) (1982).

Appellant Martin Berda ("Berda") brought this suit against his former employer, appellee CBS Inc. ("CBS"), asserting two contract claims (breach of an individual employment contract and promissory estoppel) and two tort claims (fraud and negligent misrepresentation). Appellant Linda Berda, Berda's wife, asserts a derivative claim for loss of consortium. All of the claims are founded upon Pennsylvania law, and the Berdas seek only monetary relief. CBS contends that since Berda's employment with CBS was governed by the terms and conditions of a collective bargaining agreement between CBS and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ("IBEW") -- a contention not disputed by Berda -- the state law claims are preempted by the LMRA.

The district court concluded that resolution of Berda's claims was dependent upon the collective bargaining agreement, that the alleged oral contract was inconsistent with the collective agreement, and that the claims were therefore preempted by section 301. Consequently, the court granted CBS's motion for judgment on the pleadings or, in the alternative, for summary judgment inasmuch as the complaint was not filed within the six-month statute of limitations applicable to actions arising under section 301. Because we believe that Berda can establish the allegations in his well-pleaded complaint without asking the court to analyze the collective bargaining agreement, we will reverse and remand to the district court for further proceedings.

I.

The facts relevant to this appeal are essentially uncontested. On February 27, 1986, while employed as a technician by station WPXI in Pittsburgh, Berda met with Emil Franks and M. Lynwood Heighes, Jr., employees of CBS, to discuss his possible future employment with CBS in Washington, D.C. According to the complaint, Berda was told at this meeting, among other things, that he would be guaranteed employment with CBS for the reasonably foreseeable future, and that any job offered to him would not be seasonal or temporary but would be a permanent position. CBS subsequently offered Berda employment in Washington, D.C., and, in April 1986, allegedly relying upon CBS's promises, Berda and his wife moved to Washington so that he could assume his duties as a CBS technician there.

Shortly after commencing work at CBS, Berda joined the IBEW. The parties agree that Berda's employment at CBS was covered by the terms and conditions of a collective bargaining agreement between CBS and the IBEW. Section 5.03 of that agreement pertains to layoffs, and provides in pertinent part that:

[layoffs] caused by a reduction of staff shall be made in the inverse order of seniority within each of the separate units as defined in Section 5.02 within the jurisdiction of each local union.

Section 5.02 of the collective bargaining agreement contains the provisions relating to seniority of all employees covered by the agreement.

On August 29, 1986, less than five months after he began working for CBS, and in accordance with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, Berda was laid off as part of a company-wide reduction in force. Berda alleges that CBS had decided prior to the February 27 meeting with him to conduct extensive layoffs in the department and division of CBS in which he was eventually offered employment, and hence that Frank and Heighes knew or should have known that their promises and representations to him were false.

On January 19, 1988, Berda filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, alleging breach of contract (or, alternatively, promissory estoppel) and tortious misrepresentation. The complaint did not refer to the collective bargaining agreement. CBS removed the case to the district court for the Western District of Pennsylvania alleging both federal question jurisdiction-on the ground that the suit was preempted by section 301 of the LMRA, and thus, stated a cause of action, if any, under section 301, see Avco Corp. v. Machinists, 390 U.S. 557, 558, 20 L. Ed. 2d 126, 88 S. Ct. 1235 (1968)*fn1 -and diversity jurisdiction.*fn2 CBS then moved for judgment on the pleadings or summary judgment.

The district court held that any resolution of the state law claims was substantially dependent upon an analysis of section 5.03 of the collective bargaining agreement between CBS and the IBEW and that Berda's alleged individual contract was "inconsistent with section 5.03 . . . and would limit or condition its terms." Dist.Ct.Op. at 5 (June 21, 1988). It therefore held that the claims were preempted by section 301 of the LMRA. Finding that the Berdas could not maintain the suit as an LMRA action because it was not filed within the LMRA's six-month statute of limitations, see DelCostello v. Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 169-72, 76 L. Ed. 2d 476, 103 S. Ct. 2281 (1983) (applying six-month statute of limitation in a section 301 cause of action), the district court dismissed the action. The Berdas appeal. The issue before us is whether the district court was correct in concluding that Berda could bring suit, if at all, only pursuant to section 301.*fn3

II.

A.

Section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act provides as follows:

Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce . . . may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount ...


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