450 U.S. 728 (1981), 79-2006, Barrentine v. Arkansas-Best Freight System

Docket Nº:No. 79-2006
Citation:450 U.S. 728, 101 S.Ct. 1437, 67 L.Ed.2d 641
Party Name:Barrentine v. Arkansas-Best Freight System
Case Date:April 06, 1981
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 728

450 U.S. 728 (1981)

101 S.Ct. 1437, 67 L.Ed.2d 641

Barrentine

v.

Arkansas-Best Freight System

No. 79-2006

United States Supreme Court

April 6, 1981

Argued January 13, 1981

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner truckdrivers are not paid for the time spent conducting a required pre-trip safety inspection of respondent employer motor carrier's trucks and transporting trucks that fail such inspection to the employer's on-premises repair facility. Petitioners' union submitted a wage claim for petitioners' pre-trip inspection and transportation time to a joint grievance committee pursuant to its collective bargaining agreement with petitioners' employer. The joint committee rejected the claim without explanation. Petitioners then filed an action in Federal District Court, alleging that the pre-trip safety inspection and transportation time was compensable under § 6 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and that they were therefore entitled to the statutory remedy of actual and liquidated damages, costs, and reasonable attorney's fees. They also alleged that respondent union had breached its duty of fair representation, and sought to have the joint grievance committee's decision set aside and to have proper compensation awarded under the collective bargaining agreement. The District Court addressed only the fair representation claim, and rejected it. The Court of Appeals affirmed, and also held that the District Court was correct in not addressing the FLSA claim, concluding that petitioners' voluntary submission of their grievances to arbitration barred them from asserting their statutory wage claims in the subsequent court action.

Held: Petitioners' wage claims under the FLSA are not barred by the prior submission of their grievances to the contractual dispute resolution procedures. Pp. 734-746.

(a) The FLSA rights petitioners seek to assert are independent of the collective bargaining process. Such rights devolve on petitioners as individual workers, not as members of the union, and are not waivable. While courts should defer to an arbitral decision where the employee's claim is based on rights arising out of a collective bargaining agreement, different considerations apply where the employee's claim is based on rights arising out of a statute, such as the FLSA, designed to provide minimum substantive guarantees to individual workers. Cf. Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36. Pp. 734-741.

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(b) There are two reasons why an employee's right to a minimum wage and overtime pay under the FLSA might be lost if submission of his wage claim to arbitration precluded him from later bringing an FLSA suit in federal court. First, even if the employee's claim were meritorious, his union might, without breaching its duty of fair representation, reasonably and in good faith decide not to support the claim vigorously in arbitration. Second, even when the union has fairly and fully presented the employee's wage claim, the employee's statutory rights might still not be adequately protected. Because the arbitrator is required to effectuate the intent of the parties, rather than to enforce the statute, he may issue a ruling that is inimical to the public policies underlying the FLSA, thus depriving an employee of protected statutory rights. Furthermore, not only are arbitral procedures less protective of individual statutory rights than are judicial procedures, but also arbitrators very often are powerless to grant the aggrieved employees as broad a range of relief. Under the FLSA, courts can award actual and liquidated damages, reasonable attorney's fees, and costs, whereas an arbitrator can award only that compensation authorized by the wage provisions of the collective bargaining agreement. Pp. 742-745.

615 F.2d 1194, reversed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed I dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 746.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue in this case is whether an employee may bring an action in federal district court, alleging a violation of

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the minimum wage provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 52 Stat. 1060, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., after having unsuccessfully submitted a wage claim based on the same underlying facts to a joint grievance committee pursuant to the provisions of his union's collective bargaining agreement.

I

Petitioner truckdrivers are employed at the Little Rock terminal of respondent Arkansas-Best Freight Systems, Inc., an interstate motor carrier of freight. In accordance with federal regulations and Arkansas-Best's employment practices, petitioners are required to conduct a safety inspection of their trucks before commencing any trip, and to transport any truck failing such inspection to Arkansas-Best's on-premises repair facility. See 49 CFR §§ 392.7, 392.8 (1980). Petitioners are not compensated by their employer for the time spent complying with these requirements.1

Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between Arkansas-Best and petitioners' union, respondent Local 878 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers, petitioner Barrentine and another driver filed a series of grievances against Arkansas-Best.2 They alleged that Art. 50 of the collective bargaining agreement, which requires Arkansas-Best to compensate

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its drivers "for all time spent in [its] service,"3 entitled them to compensation for the pre-trip inspection and transportation time.4 Petitioners' union presented these grievances to a joint grievance committee for final and binding decision pursuant to Art. 44 of the collective bargaining agreement.5 The joint committee, composed of three representatives of the union and three representatives of the employer, rejected the grievances without explanation. App. 22.

In March, 1977, petitioners filed this action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.6

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In the first count of their complaint, petitioner alleged that the pre-trip safety inspection and transportation time was compensable under the Fair Labor Standards ct, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq.,7 and that they were accordingly entitled to the

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statutory remedy of actual and liquidated damages, costs, and reasonable attorney's fees.8 In the second count, petitioners alleged that the union and its president had breached the union's duty of fair representation,, apparently by entering into a "side deal" with Arkansas-Best regarding compensation of the pre-trip inspection and transportation time. With respect to this claim, petitioners sought to have the decision of the joint grievance committee set aside and to have proper compensation awarded under the collective bargaining agreement.

The District Court addressed only the fair representation claim. While it conceded that "the evidence seems . . . rather to predominate in favor of the finding that there was a side agreement" as petitioners alleged, it found that the existence of such an agreement did not, in itself, give rise to a breach of the union's duty of fair representation, because the labor laws permit

parties by their own actions . . . [to] fill in the gaps that always arise with a written instrument when you apply that instrument to a multiplicity of situations and practices.

App. to Pet. for Cert. 8a, 9a. This ruling

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was affirmed by a unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, 615 F.2d 1194, 1202 (1980), and is not challenged here.9

With one judge dissenting, the Court of Appeals also held that the District Court was correct in not addressing the merits of petitioners' FLSA claim. Emphasizing that national labor policy encourages arbitration of labor disputes, the court stated that

wage disputes arising under the FLSA . . . may be the subject of binding arbitration where the collective bargaining agreement so provides . . . at least in situations in which employees knowingly and voluntarily submit their grievances to arbitration under the terms of the agreement.

Id. at 1199. Finding that petitioners had voluntarily submitted their grievances to arbitration, the court concluded that they were barred from asserting their statutory wage claim in the subsequently filed federal court action. Id. at 1199-1200. We granted certiorari, 449 U.S. 819 (1980), and reverse.

II

Two aspects of national labor policy are in tension in this case. The first, reflected in statutes governing relationships between employers and unions, encourages the negotiation of terms and conditions of employment through the collective bargaining process. The second, reflected in statutes governing relationships between employers and their individual employees, guarantees covered employees specific substantive rights. A tension arises between these policies when

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the parties to a collective bargaining agreement make an employee's entitlement to substantive statutory rights subject to contractual dispute resolution procedures.

[101 S.Ct. 1442] The national policy favoring collective bargaining and industrial self-government was first expressed in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, 29 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. (the Wagner Act). It received further expression and definition in the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, 29 U.S.C. § 141 et seq. (the Taft-Hartley Act). Predicated on the assumption that individual workers have little, if any, bargaining power, and that,

by pooling their economic strength and acting through a labor organization freely chosen by the majority, the employees of an appropriate unit have the most effective means of bargaining for improvements in wages, hours, and working...

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