Her treating physician, Dr. Katz, initially advised plaintiff that she needed to take time off from work because the stress in the workplace was affecting her health. Dr. Katz later ordered plaintiff to remain out of work. This recommendation was made on a week-to-week basis. On November 29, 1994, pursuant to defendant Bell Atlantic's policies, plaintiff's disability benefits began. Plaintiff sought counseling through Bell Atlantic's Employee Assistance Program and, upon termination of that benefit, continued counseling sessions with Dr. Rubin. Plaintiff alleges that because of the hostile work environment and gender discrimination, she applied for Social Security Disability benefits and was determined to be entitled to benefits as of August 1, 1996.
Plaintiff alleges that after she was forced to leave her employment on a disability leave, Bell Atlantic never provided her with her accrued vacation time for 1994 or for any time for which she may be entitled. Plaintiff alleges that Bell Atlantic's failure to pay her for her accrued vacation time is in violation of Bell Atlantic's policies and practices.
Additionally, plaintiff alleges that because of Bell Atlantic's failure to provide her with her accrued vacation time, her length of service with the company was affected, and thus Bell Atlantic paid plaintiff at half pay instead of extending her full-time payments to correspond with her actual length of service. Plaintiff alleges that this was in contradiction to Bell Atlantic's own policies regarding the length of time an employee may receive full-time salary.
Plaintiff also alleges that she never received the contract raise negotiated by the Union which became effective on May 21, 1995.
Plaintiff alleges that she was informed, just prior to the end of short-term disability ("STD") benefits that she would be considered retired and begin receiving long-term disability ("LTD") benefits. Less than a month later, plaintiff received a notice that she must apply for long-term disability benefits. Eventually, on or about July 9, 1996, plaintiff's request for long-term disability benefits was denied.
The issue presently before the court is whether Counts Five and Six of plaintiff's complaint are preempted by either the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1144, or Section 301 of the Labor Management Relation Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185.
A defendant sued in state court can remove the case to federal district court if the federal court would have had original jurisdiction over the action. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The party seeking removal bears the burden of establishing its propriety. See Boyer v. Snap-on Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d Cir. 1990), cert denied, 498 U.S. 1085, 112 L. Ed. 2d 1046, 111 S. Ct. 959 (1991). The Third Circuit instructs district courts to construe removal statutes strictly in favor of remand. Sun Buick, Inc. v. Saab Cars USA, Inc., 26 F.3d 1259, 1267 (3d Cir. 1994).
Where there is no diversity between the parties, a defendant may remove a case if the plaintiff's claim arises under federal law within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1331 La Chemise Lacoste v. Alligator Co., 506 F.2d 339, 343-344 (3d Cir. 1974), cert. denied, 421 U.S. 937, 44 L. Ed. 2d 94, 95 S. Ct. 1666 (1975). Plaintiff argues that this case is not removable, because all counts are grounded in state law. Plaintiff argues that "whether an action arises under federal law is determined by an examination of the claims as set forth in the complaint rather than the pleaded facts underlying them." Box Tree South, Ltd. v. Bitterman, 873 F. Supp. 833, 837 (S.D.N.Y. 1995). "The well-pleaded complaint rule is the basic principle marking the boundaries of the federal question jurisdiction of the federal district courts." Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 63, 95 L. Ed. 2d 55, 107 S. Ct. 1542 (1986).
Defendant, Bell Atlantic-New Jersey, Inc. ("defendant"), argues that plaintiff's state law claim for breach of express and/or implied contracts to compensate her for accrued vacation time, and to provide her with collectively bargained-for wage increase, and her claim that defendant denied her certain STD and LTD benefits in violation of defendant's policies and practices are founded directly upon rights created by the applicable collective bargaining agreement, and can be resolved only by interpretation of that collective bargaining agreement. Defendant alleges that therefore, these claims are preempted by Section 301 of the LMRA, 29 U.S.C. § 185.
Defendant also contends that plaintiff's claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, which contains allegations regarding STD and LTD benefits, directly relates to employee benefit plans and is preempted by ERISA, and, as such arises under Section 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1132 (a)(1)(B), of which the United States District Courts have original jurisdiction pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1331 and Sections 502 (e) and (f) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132 (e) and (f), and, therefore, was properly removed.
"One corollary of the well pleaded complaint rule developed in the case law. . . is that Congress may so completely pre-empt a particular area that any civil complaint raising this select group of claims is necessarily federal in character." Metropolitan Life, 481 U.S. 58 at 63-64, 95 L. Ed. 2d 55, 107 S. Ct. 1542. "For twenty years, [the U.S. Supreme Court] has singled out claims pre-empted by § 301 of the LMRA for such special treatment." Id. at 64 (citing Avco Corp. v. Machinists, 390 U.S. 557, 88 S. Ct. 1235, 20 L. Ed. 2d 126 (1968)). In referring to what is currently labeled the Avco principle, the Supreme Court held in 463 U.S. 1, 77 L. Ed. 2d 420, 103 S. Ct. 2841 (1983)
The necessary ground of the decision [in Avco] was that the preemptive force of § 301 is so powerful as to displace entirely any state cause of action 'for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization.' Any such suit is purely a creature of federal law, notwithstanding the fact that state law would provide a cause of action in the absence of § 301.
Id. at 23.
This court first turns to the issue of preemption under § 301 of the LMRA. In Lingle v. Norge Div. of Magic Chef, Inc., 486 U.S. 399, 100 L. Ed. 2d 410, 108 S. Ct. 1877 (1988), the Supreme Court held that
if the resolution of a state-law claim depends upon the meaning of a collective-bargaining agreement, the application of state law ... is pre-empted and federal labor-law principles ... must be employed to resolve the dispute.