Split U.S. Supreme Court Okays Union Arbitration for Age Discrimination Claims
A collective bargaining agreement that “clearly and unmistakably” requires union members to arbitrate age discrimination claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act is enforceable as a matter of federal law, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in a 5-4 decision.
At issue was a contract that required union members to submit all claims of employment discrimination to binding arbitration under the collective bargaining agreement’s grievance and dispute resolution procedures. After some members were reassigned to other less desirable jobs which they claimed led to a loss of income, their union requested arbitration under the contract, but subsequently withdrew the age discrimination claims on the basis that its consent to a new contract precluded it from objecting to the reassignments as discriminatory. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued right-to-sue letters to the union members, and the employer sought to arbitrate the claim under the union contract. Both a federal district court and the Second Circuit refused to compel arbitration.
The Court majority reverses, stating that an examination of the ADEA and the National Labor Relations Act “yields a straightforward answer.” The union and company had “collectively bargained in good faith and agreed that employment-related discrimination claims, including ADEA claims, would be resolved in arbitration. This freely negotiated contractual term easily qualifies as a ‘conditio[n] of employment’ subject to mandatory bargaining under the NLRA,” the Court says. “As in any contractual negotiation, a union may agree to the inclusion of an arbitration provision in a collective-bargaining agreement in return for other concessions from the employer, and courts generally may not interfere in this bargained-for exchange.” 14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett