Chaulk Services, Inc. v. Massachusetts Com'n Against Discrimination

Decision Date02 August 1995
Docket NumberNo. 95-1249,95-1249
Citation70 F.3d 1361
Parties150 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2961, 69 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 473, 64 USLW 2361 CHAULK SERVICES, INC., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MASSACHUSETTS COMMISSION AGAINST DISCRIMINATION, et al., Defendants-Appellees. . Heard
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit

Arthur P. Menard, with whom Paul J. Murphy and Menard Murphy & Walsh were on brief, for appellant.

Macy Lee, Assistant Attorney General, with whom Scott Harshbarger, Attorney General of Massachusetts, was on brief for appellee Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination; Katherine McClure on brief for appellees Petrina Doulamis/Sullivan and International Association of EMTs & Paramedics, NAGE and AFL-CIO.

Before TORRUELLA, Chief Judge, LYNCH, Circuit Judge, and CASELLAS, * District Judge.

CASELLAS, District Judge.

Plaintiff-appellant Chaulk Services, Inc. ("Chaulk") originally brought this action for declaratory judgment, preliminary and permanent injunctive relief against the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination ("MCAD") ("the Commission"), Petrina Doulamis/Sullivan ("Doulamis") and the International Association of EMTs & Paramedics, NAGE, AFL-CIO ("the Union"), to prevent defendants-appellees from proceeding with the case of Doulamis v. Chaulk Services, Inc., 93-BEM-2145, then pending before the MCAD, on the basis that the action was preempted by federal law, particularly, the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA") ("the Act"), 29 U.S.C. Sec. 151 et seq. The district court abstained from deciding Chaulk's preemption claim, citing Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971), Ohio Civil Rights Commission v. Dayton Christian Schools, Inc., 477 U.S. 619, 106 S.Ct. 2718, 91 L.Ed.2d 512 (1986) and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers v. MCAD, 695 F.Supp. 1321 (D.Mass.1988), and consequently dismissed Chaulk's complaint. We vacate the judgment below and remand the case to the district court.

A. Facts

In the middle of 1993, the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics NAGE, AFL-CIO, began a union organization campaign at Chaulk. Doulamis became involved in the campaign sometime during the fall of 1993, when she and Eric Burgess, a male Chaulk employee, wrote a letter to the president of Chaulk's parent company calling for the organization of a union. On November 10, 1993, Chaulk's CEO Nicholas O'Neil and Joseph Gilmore, vice-president, as part of their own campaign against the union organization effort, met with Doulamis in an attempt to pressure her into becoming a non-union advocate. Doulamis declined their invitation.

As a result of this meeting, the Union filed unfair labor practice charges on November 29, 1993 with the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") against Chaulk, claiming that it coerced and intimidated Doulamis, a known union organizer, by questioning her regarding union activities and threatening retaliation for those union activities, in violation of the Act. On December 6 and 9, 1993, the Union filed two additional charges with the NLRB, both of which alleged that Chaulk interfered with Doulamis' labor activity rights and discriminated against her because of her union organization efforts. 1

Thereafter, the NLRB issued a complaint against Chaulk alleging specific violations of Secs. 8(a)(1) and (3) of the NLRA, and charging that Chaulk had interfered with, restrained and coerced several employees, including Doulamis, in the exercise of rights guaranteed by Sec. 7 of the Act. With respect to Doulamis, the complaint alleged that on November 29, 1993 Chaulk issued a written warning and on December 7, 1993 issued a letter addressed to Doulamis threatening her with discipline if she attended any future 401(K) meetings held by Chaulk with its employees. In addition, the complaint charged that on December 2, 1993, Chaulk suspended the coauthor of the pro-union letter, Eric Burgess. According to the complaint, Chaulk engaged in this conduct because it mistakenly believed that Doulamis, together with several of her fellow employees, had engaged in misconduct arising out of union or other protected concerted activity. See Complaint and Notice of Hearing at ps 7-8. It is also alleged that these employees formed, joined and assisted the Union and otherwise engaged in concerted activities, and that Chaulk's conduct was a deliberate attempt to discourage the employees from engaging in these activities, in violation of sections 8(a)(3) and (1) of the Act. See Complaint and Notice of Hearing at ps 7-10.

A full and comprehensive settlement agreement was reached between Chaulk and the NLRB in March 1995 regarding these claims. As part of the settlement, Chaulk agreed to, inter alia, expunge from its files any reference to the transfer of Eric Burgess; the written warnings set forth in the complaints of Doulamis, Richard Graham, Chris Adler, Gary Winitzer, Jim Taubert and Jean Taubert; the suspensions of Eric Burgess, Chris Adler, Jim Taubert, Jean Taubert, Gary Winitzer, Michael Cook, Kathryn Edwards and James McLaughlin; and the terminations of Fran Wilkerson, John Borden and McLaughlin. In addition, Chaulk agreed to pay out approximately $12,000 in back pay to these employees.

Meanwhile, on December 1, 1993, after the Union had already filed its first charge with the NLRB, Doulamis filed a complaint with the MCAD against Chaulk, claiming she had been a victim of unlawful sex discrimination. Specifically, she complained of being harassed about her union activity, allegedly because of her gender, in that the "males who are also involved [in the union activity] are not being harassed."

On February 18, 1994, Chaulk moved to dismiss Doulamis' complaint at the MCAD for lack of jurisdiction, on the grounds that it was preempted by federal law. On May 13, 1994, the MCAD issued an order denying the motion to dismiss and retaining jurisdiction over Doulamis' discrimination claims, reasoning that it did not have to address the merits of the underlying labor dispute in order to resolve the allegations of gender discrimination. The Commission then promptly issued a set of interrogatories to Chaulk, requesting detailed information about all known union organizers, their role in organizing efforts and any significant acts of union organizing known to appellant, including copies of any communications between Chaulk and Doulamis relative to the union organization effort.

B. Proceedings Below

The present action was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts on December 8, 1994, seeking a declaratory judgment as well as an injunction barring the continued prosecution of Doulamis' complaint before the MCAD. Chaulk claimed that the Commission's assertion of state authority over her charge directly threatened and significantly interfered with the jurisdiction of the NLRB. As noted above, the district court granted MCAD's motion to dismiss on abstention grounds. It did not decide the preemption issue. Chaulk now appeals the district court's judgment.

A. Preemption

Relying on the doctrine of preemption first enunciated in San Diego Building Trades v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 79 S.Ct. 773, 3 L.Ed.2d 775 (1959), appellant argues that the district court erred in allowing the Commission's motion to dismiss on the grounds of Younger abstention and that it should have decided the preemption issue. Citing primarily to Bud Antle, Inc. v. Barbosa, 35 F.3d 1355 (9th Cir.1994), Chaulk asserts that when it is clear that the state tribunal is acting beyond the lawful limits of its authority, there is no principle of comity that is served by abstention. Id. at 1356. Accordingly, it urges us to find the Younger abstention doctrine inapplicable to this case, address the merits of its preemption claim, and declare that appellee's charge of sex discrimination before the Commission is indeed preempted by federal law.

We begin by delineating the present scope of the so called Garmon preemption doctrine. The Supreme Court held in Garmon that when an activity is arguably subject to Sec. 7 or Sec. 8 of the National Labor Relations Act, the states as well as the federal courts must defer to the exclusive competence of the NLRB if the danger of state interference with national labor policy is to be averted. Id. 359 U.S. at 245, 79 S.Ct. at 779-80. When Congress enacted the NLRA, it enacted comprehensive procedural rules and created the NLRB to administer this specially designed regulatory structure. The result was a complex and interrelated scheme of federal law, remedies and administration designed to achieve uniformity in our national labor policy. Garmon, 359 U.S. at 242, 79 S.Ct. at 778; New York Telephone Co. v. New York Dept. of Labor, 440 U.S. 519, 527, 99 S.Ct. 1328, 1334, 59 L.Ed.2d 553 (1979); Jones v. Truck Drivers Local Union No. 299, 838 F.2d 856, 872 (6th Cir.1988) (Merritt, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

In order to achieve the desired uniformity, Congress entrusted the interpretation and enforcement of the NLRA to a centralized administrative agency, armed with its own procedures, and equipped with its specialized knowledge and cumulative experience. See Garmon, 359 U.S. at 242, 79 S.Ct. at 778. This administrative scheme was designed to avoid the danger of conflicting or incompatible adjudications such as would inevitably result from having multiple forums, with their diverse procedures, entertain claims under the NLRA. Garner v. Teamsters, Chauffeurs and Helpers Local Union No. 776, 346 U.S. 485, 490-91, 74 S.Ct. 161, 165-66, 98 L.Ed. 228 (1953). The Garmon rule is therefore intended to preclude state interference with the NLRB's interpretation and enforcement of the integrated scheme of regulation established by the NLRA. Golden State Transit Corp. v. City of Los Angeles, 475 U.S. 608, 613, 106 S.Ct. 1395, 1398, 89 L.Ed.2d 616 (1986).

Withal, the Garmon rule admits...

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