Worker Can File Suit Despite Arbitration Waiver, Court Rules

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Union members may sue their employers in discrimination cases even if their labor contracts contain general language requiring such disputes to be submitted to arbitration, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week.

The underlying dispute in Wright v. Universal Maritime Service Corp.(Case No. 97-889) involved a Charleston, S.C., longshoreman who sued several shipping companies who refused to hire him after an on-the-job injury. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that his lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act was barred by an arbitration clause in his union contract.

The case drew widespread interest from business and labor groups. Naomi Gittins, a lawyer with the National School Boards Association, said that arbitration requirements are increasingly showing up in contracts between school districts and teachers' unions.

The Supreme Court reversed the Richmond, Va.-based appeals court and reinstated the longshoreman's suit.

Writing for the court in its Nov. 16 opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia said that the right to press a discrimination case in federal court "is of sufficient importance to be protected against less-than-explicit waiver in a [collective bargaining agreement]."

The court sidestepped the issue of whether a labor contract's explicit waiver of a federal anti-discrimination claim would be enforceable.

Discrimination Case

Separately last week, the high court refused to revive a race-discrimination lawsuit filed by a white Alabama teacher whose contract was not renewed in 1994.

Kathleen Kazanjian alleged that she was a victim of reverse discrimination by her principal, who is black, in the Anniston school district. Lower federal courts ruled that there was no evidence of racial discrimination. The high court appeal was Kazanjian v. Anniston City Board of Education (No. 98-550).

Vol. 18, Issue 13, Page 17

Published in Print: November 25, 1998, as Worker Can File Suit Despite Arbitration Waiver, Court Rules
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