Johnson v. Hydraulic Research & Mfg. Co.

Decision Date14 June 1977
Citation139 Cal.Rptr. 136,70 Cal.App.3d 675
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties, 96 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2466, 82 Lab.Cas. P 55,082 Keith E. JOHNSON, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. HYDRAULIC RESEARCH AND MANUFACTURING CO., a Division of Textron, Inc., a corporation and Eugene Cantreau, Defendants and Respondents. Civ. 48940.
Arthur D. Cohen, Los Angeles, for plaintiff and appellant

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Jack H. Halgren and Peter J. Thurston, Los Angeles, for defendants and respondents.

ASHBY, Associate Justice.

Plaintiff Johnson brought this action alleging various causes of action against his former employer, defendant Hydraulic Research and Manufacturing Company, and the company's manager of compensation and employee relations, defendant Cantreau. The trial court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment on the ground that the action was barred by plaintiff's failure to exhaust the grievance and arbitration remedies provided in the collective bargaining agreement governing the employees. Plaintiff appeals.

The factual background of the dispute is that on August 16, 1974, plaintiff, who was employed as a shop helper, was found vomiting and in acute distress in the company men's room. He was referred to Dr. Miller of the San Fernando Medical Clinic. Dr. Miller subsequently reported to the company that blood tests indicated plaintiff had an abnormally high level of secobarbital and amobarbital in the blood. Based on the results of the test and observations by plaintiff's superior that he had appeared shaky and uncoordinated while performing certain tasks, 1 the company terminated plaintiff. Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, plaintiff filed a grievance, which was resolved against him. He then requested arbitration, but subsequently the arbitration was abandoned.

Plaintiff then filed this action in superior court, alleging three causes of action against defendants. 2 Plaintiff's three alleged causes of action are: (1) conspiracy to violate plaintiff's rights under Business and Professions Code section 2379; 3 (2) wrongful interference with plaintiff's contractual relations with the doctor; and (3) defamation. The pleadings and affidavits and papers introduced on the motion for summary judgment show that plaintiff contends he was a private patient of Dr. Miller's and

that the doctor had no right to disclose to the company the results of the blood test. Plaintiff also contends he was taking drugs pursuant to a prescription, was able to perform his duties, and was unjustly discharged. On the other hand, the company contends that the examination was conducted pursuant to paragraph 5.31 of the collective bargaining [70 Cal.App.3d 679] agreement (authorizing the company to require an employee to submit to a medical examination to determine if the employee meets the company's requirements for safe and efficient continued employment) and that plaintiff was properly discharged.

DISCUSSION

The basic dispute in this case concerns whether the company had the right to the results of the medical examination and whether plaintiff was properly discharged for drug use which interfered with his job duties. As will be seen, the collective bargaining agreement governing the employees provided specific, exclusive grievance and arbitration procedures to resolve disputes of this nature. Plaintiff put into motion the grievance and arbitration procedures, but did not pursue them to a final conclusion. Because the procedures established in the collective bargaining agreement were intended to be exclusive, we conclude that plaintiff's failure to exhaust those procedures precludes the present attempt to resort to the courts instead.

It is well established that a party to a collective bargaining contract which provides grievance and arbitration machinery for the settlement of disputes within the scope of such contract must exhaust the internal remedies before resorting to the courts in the absence of facts excusing such exhaustion. (Cone v. Union Oil Co., 129 Cal.App.2d 558, 563--564, 277 P.2d 464; Terrell v. Local Lodge 758 etc. Machinists, 141 Cal.App.2d 17, 21--22, 296 P.2d 100; Hagin v. Pacific Gas & Elec. Co., 152 Cal.App.2d 93, 96, 312 P.2d 356; Stroman v. Atchison, T. & S.F. Ry. Co., 161 Cal.App.2d 151, 166, 326 P.2d 155; Thornton v. Victor Meat Co., 260 Cal.App.2d 452, 467, 67 Cal.Rptr. 887; Gutierrez v. Gaffers and Sattler Corp., 4 Cal.App.3d 731, 735, 84 Cal.Rptr. 571; Charles J. Rounds Co. v. Joint Council of Teamsters No. 42, 4 Cal.3d 888, 894--895, 95 Cal.Rptr. 53, 484 P.2d 1397.)

As explained in Cone v. Union Oil Co., supra 129 Cal.App.2d at page 564, 277 P.2d at page 468, '(t)his rule, which is analogous to the rule requiring the exhaustion of administrative remedies as a condition precedent to resorting to the courts (citation), is based on a practical approach to the myriad problems, complaints and grievances that arise under a collective bargaining agreement. It makes possible the settlement of such matters by a simple, expeditious and inexpensive procedure, and by persons who, generally, are intimately familiar therewith. (Citation.) The use of these internal remedies for the adjustment of grievances is designed not only to promote settlement thereof but also to foster more harmonious employee-employer relations. (Citation.) Such procedures, which have been worked out and adopted by the parties themselves, must be pursued to their conclusion before judicial action may be instituted unless circumstances exist which would excuse the failure to follow through with the contract remedies.'

We of course understand plaintiff's desire to remedy the breach of what he claims was a private doctor-patient relationship, the loss of his job, and the injury to his reputation which results from the employer's position as to the reason for his discharge. But the subject matter of the dispute is such that the collective bargaining agreement provided a method of resolving it. Plaintiff should have followed through with those procedures. 'A contrary rule which would permit an individual employee to completely sidestep available grievance procedures in favor of a lawsuit has little to command it. . . . (I) t would deprive employer and union of the ability to establish a uniform and exclusive method for orderly settlement of employee grievances. If a grievance procedure cannot be made exclusive, it loses much of its desirability as a method of settlement.' (Republic Steel v. Maddox, 379 U.S. 650, 653, 85 S.Ct. 614, 616, 13 L.Ed.2d 580.) The very fact that the agreement provides the employee a grievance and arbitration remedy for unjust discharge necessarily entails that the company's reasons for the discharge will be disclosed.

The collective bargaining agreement in this case contains the following pertinent clauses:

'3.51 The grievance and arbitration procedure provided for in this Article shall constitute the sole and exclusive method of adjustment and settlement between the parties of any and all grievances as herein defined.

'3.11 A grievance is hereby defined as any written claim or dispute between the Company and the Union or between the Company and an employee concerning wages, hours or working conditions or the interpretation or application of a specific clause or clauses of this Agreement.

'3.41 (Following a three-step grievance procedure, in) the event of a failure to accomplish a settlement of a grievance involving the interpretation or application of a specific clause or clauses of this Agreement, such grievance may be submitted to Arbitration by written notice to this effect pursuant to Paragraph 3.32 of this Article.

'3.44 The decision of the arbitrator, subject to any remedies of the parties at law, shall be final and binding on the parties.

'1.75 The Company may discipline or discharge employees for a justifiable reason.

'5.31 At any time during his employment, an employee may be required by the Company, at its option and expense, to submit to a medical examination to determine if the employee meets the Company's requirements for safe and efficient employment, continued employment, or continued assignment to a particular job classification.'

We hold that the dispute plaintiff is attempting to litigate in the present action is clearly one which concerns 'the interpretation or application of a specific clause or clauses of' the collective bargaining agreement ( 3.11) or is a dispute 'within the scope of such contract' (Cone v. Union Oil Co., supra) and that therefore plaintiff's failure to exhaust the arbitration procedure specified in the agreement precludes the instant action.

Plaintiff emphasizes that paragraph 3.41 of the agreement provides in the event of a failure to accomplish settlement of a grievance, such grievance 'may' be submitted to arbitration. The use of the term 'may' merely indicates that a party has an option either to accept the result of step three of the grievance procedure or to request arbitration. Particularly in light of paragraph 3.51 referring to the grievance and arbitration procedures as the 'sole and exclusive' method of adjustment of grievances, the use of the word 'may' does not mean that a party may choose to skip the arbitration process and litigate in court instead. (Hagin v. Pacific Gas & Elec. Co., supra, 152 Cal.App.2d 93, 96, 312 P.2d 356; Republic Steel v. Maddox, supra, 379 U.S. at p. 658, 85 S.Ct. 614.)

Plaintiff offers no excuse for his abandonment of the arbitration remedy. Defendant Cantreau's affidavit states that he was informed by plaintiff's union representative that the proceedings 'had been abandoned as without merit.' 4 Plaintiff contends that a notation on the grievance form stated: 'Grievance withdrawn without prejudice or precedent.' This ambiguous statement on the grievance form does not constitute a showing of excuse. (Compare Cone v. Union Oil Co., supra 129...

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    ...statute must be exhausted before bringing a civil action based on violation of the statute]. 7. Johnson v. Hydraulic Research & Mfg. Co. (1977) 70 Cal.App.3d 675, 679, 139 Cal.Rptr. 136 [grievance procedures in collective bargaining agreement intended as exclusive remedy for employee claimi......
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