California Supreme Court Reverses Appeals Court. Handing Modest Victory to Giants Security Guards

Aug 16, 2019

The Supreme Court of California has reversed an appeals court, finding that it misinterpreted the Labor Management Relations Act § 301(a) (29 U.S.C. § 185(a)) (Act) when it relied upon the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) rather than state law in deciding whether to send a wrongful discharge claim to arbitration. 
George Melendez, a security guard at the park, is the lead plaintiff in this putative class action against the San Francisco Baseball Associates LLC (Giants). He “contends that he and other security guards were employed ‘intermittingly’ for specific job assignments (baseball games or other events) and were discharged ‘at the end of a homestand, at the end of a baseball season, at the end of an inter-season event like a fan fest, college football game, a concert, a series of shows, or other events,’ and that therefore under (state law they] were entitled to but did not receive immediate payment of their final wages upon each such ‘discharge.'”
The Giants, meanwhile, claim that the “security guards are not intermittent employees but are ‘year-round employees who remain employed with the Giants until they resign or are terminated pursuant to the CBA.'” To support this contention, they cite provisions of the agreement entered into between the Giants and the union that represents the security guards, the Service Employees International Union, United Services Workers West of San Francisco.
Relevant here, the Giants moved to compel arbitration, arguing that the action is preempted by the Act, The trial court denied the motion. It “held that resolution of the controversy does not require interpretation of the CBA, but simply a determination of whether the security guards are discharged within the meaning of Labor Code section 201 at the conclusion of an event or series of baseball games.” The Giants appealed. 
The Court of Appeal agreed with the Giants and reversed the order denying the motion to compel arbitration, leading to the instant appeal.
By way of background, the high court noted that “the Act requires the complete preemption of state law claims brought to enforce collective bargaining agreements. The main policies behind this preemption rule are to ensure nationwide uniformity with respect to the interpretation of collective bargaining agreements and preserve arbitration as the primary means of resolving disputes over the meaning of collective bargaining agreements. Although the language of § 301 is limited to suits for violation of contracts, courts have concluded that, in order to give the proper range to § 301’s policies of promoting arbitration and the uniform interpretation of collective bargaining agreement provisions, § 301 complete preemption must be construed to cover most state-law actions that require interpretation of labor agreements.” 
The determination of whether a claim is preempted depends on the particular facts of each case. “The primary point of reference in the preemption analysis is … the plaintiff’s pleading,” noted the court.
“We conclude that, although the agreement between the union and the Giants may be relevant to this lawsuit and may need to be consulted to resolve it, the parties’ dispute (as evidenced by the pleading) turns on an interpretation of state law—namely, the meaning of ‘discharge’ under Labor Code section 201—rather than an interpretation of the agreement itself,” wrote the court. 
“We express no view on the parties’ interpretations of Labor Code section 201 or the ultimate merits of this lawsuit, which are not before us in this appeal from the denial of the motion to compel arbitration, and on which no court has yet ruled. We hold only that section 301(a) does not preempt this lawsuit. The merits will have to be resolved when the matter is remanded to the trial court.”
George Melendez et al. v. San Francisco Baseball Associates LLC; Supreme Court of California; S245607; 4/25/19
Attorneys of Record : (for Defendant and Appellant) Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, Nancy Pritikin, Babak Yousefzadeh, Karin Dougan Vogel and Brian S. Fong. (for Plaintiffs and Respondents) Sahag Majarian II; Moss Bollinger and Dennis F. Moss.


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