United States District Court, D. New Jersey
L. LINARES JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court by way of Plaintiff Steven
Catoggio's Motion to Remand this case to the Superior
Court of New Jersey, Passaic County. (ECF No. 17). Defendant
Alliance Industries, LLC ("Defendant Alliance")
filed opposition, (ECF No. 20), but Defendant Sheet Metal
Workers International Association, Local 25, AFL-CIO
("Defendant Union") did not file opposition in the
time provided by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the
Local Civil Rules, (see Docket Sheet). The Court
decides this matter without oral argument pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the following reasons, the
Court grants Plaintiffs Motion to Remand.
October 11, 2011, Plaintiff began working for Defendant
Alliance as a truck driver. (ECF No. 1-1 ("Compl.")
¶ 6). Three weeks later, Defendant Alliance assigned
Plaintiff extra duties, such as metal cutting, assembling
equipment, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning
duct work. (Compl. ¶ 7). Though this work required union
membership and special training through an apprenticeship,
Plaintiff was not a member of a union or apprenticeship
program when he was first assigned these duties. (Compl.
¶ 7). Because Plaintiff excelled at the metal and
ductwork he was assigned, the foreman at Defendant Alliance
encouraged Plaintiff to apply for an apprenticeship program.
(Compl. ¶ 8).
was subsequently accepted into an apprenticeship program for
sheet metal work, which gave him automatic membership to
Defendant Union. (Compl. ¶¶ 8 9). To complete an
apprenticeship, Plaintiff needed to perform eight six-month
terms, equaling four years, as well as attend classes and
take a written exam each term. (Compl. ¶ 10). At the
conclusion of the apprenticeship, Plaintiff would become a
journeyman. (Compl. ¶ 11). An apprentice's pay rate
increases each year of the four-year apprenticeship from
thirty-five to sixty-five percent a journeyman's salary.
(Compl. ¶ 11). Any issues concerning apprentices were
referred to Defendant Union's five-member Joint
Apprenticeship Training Committee Board ("the
JATC"). (Compl. ¶ 25).
began his apprenticeship at Defendant Alliance on January 1,
2012. (Compl. ¶ 12). Shortly after his apprenticeship
began, Plaintiff alleges that he witnessed several strange
practices at Defendant Alliance. (Compl. ¶¶ 12-14).
Specifically, Plaintiff allegedly noticed that newly hired
truck drivers and other non-union employees were assigned
duties that required union membership and were generally
reserved for apprentices and journeymen. (Compl. ¶¶
12-13). According to Plaintiff, Defendant Alliance also
failed to follow the required procedure of reporting
workplace accidents to Defendant Union, demeaned injured
employees who sought workers' compensation benefits, and
terminated employees who sought workers' compensation or
who were suspected of leaking information regarding Defendant
Alliance's assignment of union-required duties to
non-union member employees. (Compl. ¶ 14).
August 5, 2015, a non-union worker was cleaning and securing
the bucket of a bulldozer-a task that requires union
membership-and failed to properly fasten the bucket, causing
it to fall on Plaintiffs foot and severely injure him.
(Compl. ¶ 15). Plaintiff was taken to the hospital,
where he underwent reconstructive surgery, which was
unsuccessful and Plaintiffs toes were amputated three weeks
later. (Compl. ¶¶ 16-18). Plaintiff alleges that he
"also sustained major fractures throughout his
foot." (Compl. ¶ 17). Defendant Alliance did not
report the accident, and neither did Plaintiff out of fear
that Defendant Alliance would retaliate against him. (Compl.
weeks after the accident, Plaintiff contacted the president
of the apprenticeship program, Mr. Turner, to inform him that
Plaintiff could not attend the upcoming class. (Compl. ¶
20). Mr. Turner told Plaintiff that he was not aware of
Plaintiff s injury, which came as a surprise to Plaintiff.
(Compl. ¶ 21). Mr. Turner and the business agent for
Defendant Union then went to visit Plaintiff, and advised him
to contact the workers' compensation attorney associated
with Defendant Union. (Compl. ¶ 22). Plaintiff expressed
doubts about contacting the workers' compensation
attorney, and explained that other employees of Defendant
Alliance were retaliated against for seeking workers'
compensation benefits. (Compl. ¶ 22). Plaintiff also
told the two men the details of his injury and how a
non-union worker was performing duties connected to the
bulldozer, in violation of the applicable rules and policies.
(Compl. ¶ 23). Mr. Turner and the business agent assured
Plaintiff that they would protect him, and Plaintiff retained
Defendant Union's workers' compensation attorney.
(Compl. ¶ 24). At some point thereafter, Plaintiff began
receiving workers' compensation benefits. (See
Compl. ¶ 28).
around October 2015, the majority owner of Defendant
Alliance, Mr. Williams, became one of the five board members
of the JATC. (Compl. ¶ 25). Around that time, Mr.
Williams contacted Plaintiff and informed him that Plaintiff
had been cleared for "light duty," and that Mr.
Williams wanted Plaintiff to come back to work. (Compl.
¶ 26). However, according to Plaintiff, an employee must
be cleared for "full duty," not just "light
duty," before returning to work. (Compl. ¶ 26).
Furthermore, Plaintiff claims that he had not yet started
physical therapy and that his injuries were not fully healed.
(Compl. ¶ 27). Rather, Plaintiff participated in
physical therapy between November 2015 and March 2016, and
was not cleared to return to work on full duty until July 5,
2016. (Compl. ¶¶ 27, 40). Shortly after his October
2015 conversation with Mr. Williams, Plaintiff was contacted
by Mr. Turner, who informed him that Mr. Williams was
communicating with the union hall in an attempt to cancel
Plaintiffs workers' compensation benefits. (Compl. ¶
events caused Plaintiff to fear that he would be retaliated
against and possibly terminated upon his return to Defendant
Alliance for filing a workers' compensation claim.
(Compl. ¶ 29). Accordingly, Plaintiff met with the
president of Defendant Union, Mr. Demark, on June 23, 2016,
and requested that he be transferred to a different company
once he was cleared to return to work. (Compl. ¶ 30).
Mr. Demark informed Plaintiff that the JATC would have to
authorize the transfer, at which time Plaintiff reminded Mr.
Demark that Mr. Williams had joined the JATC and that there
was a possible conflict of interest. (Compl. ¶ 31).
Plaintiff was assured that Mr. Williams would not be involved
in the decisionmaking process, but Plaintiff was never
informed whether a vote took place or whether a decision was
made. (Compl. ¶31).
22, 2016, Plaintiff received a letter from the JATC
instructing him to contact the Members Assistance Program
("MAP"), which provided services to members of
Defendant Union in connection with their finances and
personal problems. (Compl. ¶ 32). Plaintiff was further
instructed to contact MAP by July 29, 2016, but failed to do
so because he was awaiting a decision regarding his transfer
request before he took any further action. (Compl.
¶¶ 32-33). On August 17, 2016, the JATC sent
Plaintiff another letter informing him that he failed to
respond to its previous correspondence regarding MAP, and
that Plaintiff was therefore terminated from the
apprenticeship program and Defendant Alliance. (Compl.
¶¶ 34, 41). The letter also stated that Plaintiff
could not reapply once he was terminated, which Plaintiff
alleges is inaccurate as other members were allowed to
reapply. (Compl. ¶ 35). According to Plaintiff, the JATC
used his failure to respond as a pretext to terminate him,
when in reality Plaintiff was terminated in retaliation for
filing a claim of workers' compensation benefits and
disclosing Defendant Alliance's allegedly improper
policies and conduct. (Compl. ¶ 36). Plaintiff further
claims that Defendant Alliance discriminated against him by
firing him because of his disability, which was caused by his
work-related injury. (Compl. ¶¶ 36, 46).
on or around August 11, 2017, Plaintiff brought this action
against Defendants in New Jersey Superior Court, Passaic
County, seeking reinstatement as well as compensatory and
punitive damages. (See generally Compl.). In his
Complaint, Plaintiff asserts the following causes of action
under New Jersey state law: (1) Workers' Compensation
Discrimination in Violation of the New Jersey Workers'
Compensation Act, N.J.S.A. 34:15-39.1 ("NJWCA");
(2) Disability Discrimination in Violation of New Jersey Law
Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-5(q)
("NJLAD"); (3) Failure to Provide Reasonable
Accommodations in Violation of NJLAD and N.J.A.C.
13:13-2.5(b); (4) Retaliation in Violation of NJLAD, N.J.S.A.
10:5-12(d); (5) Violation of the Conscientious Employee
Protection Act, N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 ("NJCEPA"); (6)
Violation of Public Policy pursuant to Pierce v. Ortho
Pharm. Corp., 84 N.J. 58, 72 (1980) ("New Jersey
Pierce claim"); and (7) Intentional Infliction
of Emotional Distress ("IIED"). (Compl.
November 15, 2017, Defendants removed the case to this Court
on the basis of the Court's federal jurisdiction,
claiming that Plaintiffs causes of action are preempted by
the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29
U.S.C. §§ 1001, et seq.
("ERISA") and the Labor Management Relations Act of
1947, 29 U.S.C. §§ 141, et seq.
("LMRA"). (ECF No. 1). After the case was removed,
Defendant Alliance filed a motion to join the JATC as an
indispensable party, which is currently pending. (ECF No.
15). Plaintiff now moves for remand. (ECF No. 17).