United States District Court, District of New Jersey, D.
June 26, 2000
MICHAEL NAPLES, PLAINTIFF,
NEW JERSEY SPORTS AND EXPOSITION AUTHORITY, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolin, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on motions of both parties.
Plaintiff, Michael Naples, moves (1) to amend his Complaint pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), in an attempt to remove all
federal questions from his Complaint and (2) to remand to state court.
Defendant, the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, moves for
dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. The Court has considered this motion on the papers pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons stated below, the
Court will permit the amendment to the Complaint and remand this case to
Bergen County Superior Court.
The following facts, derived predominantly from the pleadings, are
taken as true only for the purpose of deciding the motions before the
Plaintiff, an employee of defendant until October 1998, claims that he
was injured in an automobile accident on defendant's roadway in January
1998. (See Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 14). After the accident, "defendant
instructed the plaintiff and his family to submit all bills for medical
and rehabilitative treatment through Workers' Compensation. . . ." (See
id. ¶ 6). On April 23, 1998, despite defendant's alleged assurances,
defendant denied plaintiffs workers' compensation claims. (See id. ¶
7). Defendant then terminated plaintiffs employment in October 1998. (See
id. ¶¶ 9, 12, 14). Plaintiff claims he was fired due to his
On September 8, 1999, plaintiff filed a Complaint in Bergen County
Superior Court. The Complaint alleged, inter alia) disability
discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination
("NJLAD") and a breach of a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") which
governed the parties' employment relationship.
Thereafter, on November 17, 1999, defendant removed the Complaint to
this Court. Defendant claimed, in the Notice of Removal, that Count Four
— breach of the CBA — served as a basis for federal
jurisdiction. Specifically, defendant stated that Count Four required an
interpretation of the CBA and, therefore, was completely preempted by
§ 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA").
Plaintiff now moves to amend his Complaint. In his Amended Complaint,
plaintiff seeks to remove Count Four and any reference to the terms of the
CBA. The proposed, multi-count, Amended Complaint alleges (1) a violation
of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD") and (2)
retaliation against plaintiff for filing his workers' compensation
claim.*fn2 Pursuant to this amendment,
plaintiff contends that the Amended Complaint contains no basis for
federal jurisdiction. Thus, plaintiff seeks remand to the Superior Court
of New Jersey, Law Division: Bergen County.
Defendant disagrees. Defendant argues that all counts of the Amended
Complaint require the interpretation of the CBA and are, therefore,
preempted by the Labor Management Relations Act. Defendant, thus,
concludes that the Amended Complaint is properly within the subject
matter jurisdiction of this Court.*fn3 Assuming the Court has
jurisdiction, defendant argues that the Court should dismiss the
Complaint because plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies
under the CBA.
I. Amendment as of Right
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) permits a plaintiff to amend his
complaint "once as a matter of course at any time before a responsive
pleading is served." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a). In the context of this case, a
"responsive pleading" is an answer to the complaint. See 6 Charles A.
Wright, Arthur R. Miller, Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure,
¶ 1475 (2d ed. 1990).
Here, defendant has not filed its answer. Therefore, the Court must
permit plaintiffs amendment.
As noted above, plaintiff claims that his Amended Complaint contains no
federal issues and, therefore, should be remanded to state court.
Defendant, however, disagrees. Defendant claims that, even after the
amendment of the Complaint, all claims are preempted by § 301 of the
LMRA. In particular, defendant argues that LMRA preempts plaintiffs' New
Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD") claim.
Defendant's argument is unavailing.
The Supreme Court has held § 301 of the LMRA preempts all state law
claims which depend upon the meaning of collective bargaining
agreements. See Lingle v. Norge Div. of Magic Chef Inc., 486 U.S. 399,
405-06, 108 S.Ct. 1877, 100 L.Ed.2d 410 (1988); Teamsters v. Lucas Flour
Co., 369 U.S. 95, 103-04, 82 S.Ct. 571, 7 L.Ed.2d 593 (1962). The Supreme
Court explained that preemption is warranted so that a "uniform federal
law" would govern
the interpretation of collective bargaining agreements.*fn4 See Lingle,
486 U.S. at 404, 108 S.Ct. 1877; Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck,
471 U.S. 202, 211, 105 S.Ct. 1904, 85 L.Ed.2d 206 (1985). Indeed, all
questions relating to what the parties to a labor
agreement agreed, and what legal consequences were
intended to flow from breaches of that agreement, must
be resolved by reference to uniform federal law,
whether such questions arise in the context of a suit
for breach of contract or in a suit alleging liability
Id. Thus, so long as "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 — necessarily uniform
throughout the Nation — must be employed to resolve the dispute."
Lingle, 486 U.S. at 405-06, 108 S.Ct. 1877 (applying Lueck, 471 U.S. at
218, 105 S.Ct. 1904).*fn5
Despite this broad rule, LMRA does not preempt "every dispute
concerning employment." Lueck, 471 U.S. at 211, 105 S.Ct. 1904. The
Supreme Court explained that, consistent with Congressional intent, LMRA
does not "preempt state rules that proscribe conduct, or establish rights
and obligations, independent of a labor contract." Id. at 212, 105 S.Ct.
1904. "Only state law claims `inextricably intertwined with
considerations of the terms of the labor contract' are preempted by
[LMRA]." Carrington v. RCA Global Communications, Inc., 762 F. Supp. 632,
640 (D.N.J. 1991) (quoting Malia v. RCA Corp., 794 F.2d 909, 912 (3d
In the instant case, the Court finds that plaintiffs NJLAD disability
discrimination claim is not "inextricably intertwined" with the CBA.
Thus, this claim is not preempted.
In so holding, the Court relies, in j)art, on the well-reasoned
opinions of courts in this district. Indeed, District of New Jersey courts
have consistently determined that claims under the NJLAD are separate and
independent from the terms of labor contracts. See Mitchell v. Village
Super Market, Inc., 926 F. Supp. 476, 479-81 (D.N.J. 1996); Kube v. New
Penn Motor Express, Inc., 865 F. Supp. 221, 228-30 (D.N.J. 1994);
Carrington, 762 F. Supp. at 639-42. As such, these courts have concluded
that the LMRA does not preempt NJLAD claims. See Mitchell, 926 F. Supp.
at 479-81; Kube, 865 F. Supp. at 228-30; Carrington, 762 F. Supp. at
For instance, in Carrington, the court exhaustively reviewed the
pertinent case law and determined that the LMRA did not preempt NJLAD
racial discrimination claims. See Carrington, 762 F. Supp. at 640-42. In
that case, the court held that "both the existence and the scope of
plaintiffs state law discrimination claims under NJLAD are derived
independently from state law, and not from the obligations assumed by the
parties under the labor agreement." Id. at 641; see also Mitchell, 926 F.
Supp. at 480 ("[T]he right not to be discriminated against is defined and
enforced under state law without reference to the terms of any collective
bargaining agreement even where the labor contract
itself prohibits discrimination." (internal quotations omitted)).
In Kube, a case closely analogous to the instant case, the court held
that LMRA did not preempt a NJLAD disability discrimination claim.
Similar to Carrington, the court found that the adjudication of
plaintiffs disability discrimination claim required no consultation to the
pertinent collective bargaining agreement. The court opined:
the New Jersey Supreme Court, relying on the New
Jersey Administrative Code, has determined that an
employer's decision to terminate a handicapped
employee because of his handicap requires "an
objective standard supported by factual or
scientifically validated evidence, rather than . . .
general assumptions that a particular handicap would
create a hazard" to the employee or to others. . . .
Consequently, the outcome of plaintiffs discrimination
claim will depend on the actual events which
transpired between plaintiff and defendant, and not on
the meaning of any provision of the collective
Id. at 228-29 (quoting Jansen, 110 N.J. at 378, 541 A.2d 682).
Here, like in Carrington and Kobe, plaintiffs NJLAD claim requires no
interpretation of the CBA. Rather, to determine whether defendant
violated the NJLAD, the ultimate decision maker must ascertain whether
the plaintiff has proven a prima facie case of discriminatory discharge.
To do this, plaintiff must prove:
(1) that he was [handicapped within the meaning of the
law], (2) that he was performing his job at a level
that met his employer's legitimate expectations [and
that the handicap did not unreasonably hinder his job
performance], (3) that he nevertheless was fired, and
(4) that the [employer] sought someone to perform the
same work after he left.
Jansen v. Food Circus Supermarkets, Inc., 110 N.J. 363
, 382, 541 A.2d 682
(1988); see also Maher v. New Jersey Transit Rail Operations, Inc.,
125 N.J. 455
, 480-81, 593 A.2d 750
(1991). Upon the examination of these
four elements, the Court finds that the CBA has no connection to
plaintiffs NJLAD claim. Indeed, plaintiffs claim is completely independent
because it "is neither the source of the plaintiffs claim, nor a document
that needs to be consulted to resolve plaintiffs cause of action." Kube,
865 F. Supp. at 228.
Defendant does not dispute that the CBA is unrelated to elements 1, 3,
and 4 of a prima facie case. Defendant appears to argue, however, that
the resolution of the NJLAD claim requires the application of the CBA to
the second element — i.e., whether plaintiff performed his job at a
level that met his employer's expectations. In making this argument,
defendant points to a provision in the CBA which gives it the right to
take disciplinary action against employees for "just cause." (Tabs. Exh.
A, CBA Art. 13).
Many courts have addressed and rejected this precise argument. In
Lingle, the Supreme Court refused to preempt the plaintiffs claim even
though the collective bargaining agreement contained a similar "just
cause" provision. See Lingle, 486 U.S. at 408-09, 108 S.Ct. 1877. The
Court reasoned that "state-law analysis might well involve attention to
the same factual considerations as the contractual determination of
whether [the plaintiff] was fired for just cause, . . . [but] such
parallelism [does not] render the state law analysis dependent on the
contractual analysis." Id. at 408, 108 S.Ct. 1877. "[A]s long as the
state-law claim can be resolved without interpreting the agreement
itself, the claim is `independent' of the agreement for § 301
pre-emption purposes." Id. at 410, 108 S.Ct. 1877. "For even if an
arbitrator should conclude that the contract does not prohibit a
particular discriminatory or retaliatory discharge, that conclusion might
or might not be consistent with a proper interpretation of state law."
Id. at 413, 108 S.Ct. 1877. As such, the Court concluded that "in the
typical case a state
tribunal could resolve . . . a discriminatory . . . discharge claim
without interpreting the `just cause' language of a collective bargaining
agreement." Id. at 413, 108 S.Ct. 1877; see also Mitchell, 926 F. Supp.
at 480; Carrington, 762 F. Supp. at 640-41; Lepore v. National Tool
& Mfr. Co., 224 N.J. Super. 463, 477, 540 A.2d 1296 (App. Div.
Following Lingle and its progeny, the Court finds that plaintiffs NJLAD
claim can be resolved without reference to the "just-cause" provision.
Although the analysis may "require addressing precisely the same set of
facts, . . . the claim is `independent' of the [CBA] for [LMRA]
purposes." Carrington, 762 F. Supp. at 641. Indeed, the ultimate decision
maker can certainly determine the second element of the prima facie case
— whether plaintiff met defendant's legitimate expectations
— without consulting the CBA's "just-cause" provision.*fn6
Defendant also argues for preemption because the CBA prescribes a
"mandatory grievance and arbitration process." (Def. Opp. Br. at 8).
Stated differently, defendant suggests that the grievance/arbitration
procedure supplants all of plaintiffs claims, including independent state
Contrary to defendant's argument, a grievance/arbitration provision, by
itself, cannot preempt independent state law claims, such as plaintiffs
NJLAD claim. If it did, parties to a labor contract would possess the
power to avoid all such claims simply by including a mandatory grievance
provision in their collective bargaining agreement. Without question, such
a result is untenable and contravenes controlling precedent. As the
Lueck Court held:
Of course, not every dispute concerning employment, or
tangentially involving a provision of a
collective-bargaining agreement, is pre-empted by
§ 301 or other provisions of the federal labor
law. . . . [There is no] suggestion that Congress, in
adopting § 301, wished to give the substantive
provisions of private agreements the force of federal
law, ousting any inconsistent state regulation. Such a
rule would delegate to unions and unionized employers
the power to exempt themselves from whatever state
labor standards they disfavored. Clearly, [LMRA] does
not grant the parties to a collective-bargaining
agreement the ability to contract for what is illegal
under state law.
Lueck, 471 U.S. at 211-12, 105 S.Ct. 1904.
Following the rationale of Lueck, the Court finds that LMRA does not
grant parties to a collective bargaining agreement the ability to avoid
independent state law discrimination claims. "[N]otwithstanding the
strong policies encouraging arbitration, different considerations apply
where the employee's claim is based on rights arising out of a statute
designed to provide minimum substantive guarantees to individual
workers." Id. at 212, 105 S.Ct. 1904 (internal quotations omitted). In
fact, "Congress expressly contemplated that the states would exercise
traditional regulatory powers to prohibit employment discrimination."
United States v. City of Philadelphia, 798 F.2d 81, 86
n. 5 (3d Cir. 1986). New Jersey has exercised that power in enacting the
NJLAD. Hence, because the independent state rights guaranteed under NJLAD
are not "inextricably intertwined" with the grievance/arbitration
provision or any CBA provision, preemption is unwarranted.*fn7
B. Retaliatory Discharge
Defendant also argues that the LMRA preempts plaintiffs claim of
retaliatory discharge for collecting workers' compensation. Again,
defendant's argument is without merit.
In Lingle, the Supreme Court found that an Illinois state law tort of
retaliatory discharge for filing a workers' compensation claim was not
preempted by LMRA. Lingle, 486 U.S. at 407, 108 S.Ct. 1877. The Court
reasoned that the elements of the tort were "purely factual questions
pertain[ing] to the conduct of the employee and the conduct and motivation
of the employer." Id. Accordingly, the Court found preemption unwarranted
because no element or defense required the interpretation of the
collective bargaining agreement. Id.
Following Lingle, a court in this district held:
The elements of a claim for retaliatory discharge for
collecting workers' compensation benefits under New
Jersey law closely mirror the elements required under
the Illinois tort discussed in Lingle. Thus,
resolution of the retaliatory discharge claim under
New Jersey law would require a purely factual inquiry
which does not depend upon the meaning of any terms in
the collective bargaining agreement.
Kube, 865 F. Supp. at 230-31 (citing Lingle, 486 U.S. at 407, 108 S.Ct.
1877). Accordingly, the court found preemption unwarranted. See id. at
This Court agrees with its sister court. Hence, plaintiffs New Jersey
statutory claim of retaliatory discharge implicates no provision of the
CBA. As a result, plaintiffs claim is not preempted.
Because LMRA does not preempt plaintiffs complaint, the Court lacks
subject matter jurisdiction. Indeed, no federal claims are present on the
face of the complaint. Accordingly, the Court will remand this case to
the Bergen County Superior Court.
While the Amended Complaint contains no basis for federal
jurisdiction, if, in the future, plaintiff asserts any claim which
requires interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement, his claim
will likely state a federal question. At that time, the defendant may,
again, remove the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Until
then, the Court lacks the power to adjudicate this dispute.