Sinley v. Safety Controls Tech., 2020-1158

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Ohio
Writing for the CourtBrunner, J.
Citation2022 Ohio 4153
PartiesSinley, Appellee, v. Safety Controls Technology, Inc., et al.; Superior Dairy, Inc., Appellant.
Docket Number2020-1158
Decision Date23 November 2022


Sinley, Appellee,

Safety Controls Technology, Inc., et al.; Superior Dairy, Inc., Appellant.

No. 2020-1158

Supreme Court of Ohio

November 23, 2022

Submitted September 7, 2021

Appeal from the Court of Appeals for Cuyahoga County, No. 109065, 2020-Ohio-4068.


Scanlon & Elliott, Michael J. Elliott, and Lawrence J. Scanlon, for appellee.

Haneline Pryatel Law and Keith L. Pryatel, for appellant.

Giorgianni Law, L.L.C., and Paul Giorgianni, urging affirmance for amicus curiae Ohio Association for Justice.

Elfvin, Klingshirn, Royer & Torch, L.L.C., and Neil Klingshirn, urging affirmance for amicus curiae Ohio Employment Lawyers Association.

Kevin D. Shimp, urging reversal for amicus curiae Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

Mayer Brown, L.L.P., Carmine R. Zarlenga, Archis A Parasharami, and Daniel E. Jones, urging reversal for amicus curiae Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America.

Brunner, J.

{¶ 1} When an employee is a member of a labor union, he yields some individual rights for benefits he realizes through a collective-bargaining process and its resulting agreement or contract. The individual unionized employee is governed by the terms of his union's collective-bargaining agreement, including any terms that require arbitration as the exclusive remedy to resolve a dispute. But this does not change the traditional analysis of whether an issue is arbitrable-the breach or controversy must have been contemplated by the collective-bargaining agreement. So when a dispute arises from outside the terms of the agreement-i.e., not simply a breach of the agreement itself but a dispute arising from common-law or statutory authority separate from the agreement-the dispute must be within the scope of the issues the parties to the collective-bargaining agreement contemplated for arbitration in order to otherwise preclude a judicial forum.

{¶ 2} Specifically, the issues that the parties to a collectively bargained agreement intend to be resolved by arbitration must be precise, clear, and unmistakable in the language of the agreement. Because appellee Steven Sinley's claims against his employer in this case were not clearly contained within the terms of the arbitration clause in his union's bargaining agreement with his employer, we hold that he cannot be compelled into arbitration to resolve his claims.

I. Facts and Procedural History

{¶ 3} Sinley worked in the maintenance department at a dairy-food production facility operated by appellant, Superior Dairy, Inc. ("Superior"), in Stark County. Sinley alleges that on May 11, 2019, he responded to a call to repair a malfunctioning grinder machine. He alleges that while working on the machine, he suffered a severe injury to his dominant right hand resulting in the loss of four fingers.

{¶ 4} In August 2019, Sinley sued his employer, along with Safety Controls Technology, Inc., which is alleged to be Superior's safety consulting and training


firm; Rotogran International, Inc., the alleged manufacturer of the grinder machine; and the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation. Sinley claimed that Superior had removed the electronic safety mechanism on the grinder that would have shut off the power to the grinder whenever it was disassembled. Sinley alleged that he was not warned by his supervisor that certain safety procedures had not been implemented on the machine, and he alleged that his supervisor "intentionally and without warning activated the machine" while Sinley was working on it. Sinley sought damages for his mental and physical pain and suffering, permanent injuries, loss of enjoyment of life, and medical expenses and sought statutory damages available related to products liability.

{¶ 5} Superior states that maintenance employees at its facility, including Sinley, are members of a labor union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America, Local No. 92 (the "union"). Superior and the union were parties to a collective-bargaining agreement ("CBA") at the time of Sinley's injury. Articles IX and X of the CBA contain provisions governing grievances and arbitration, respectively. Article IX, Section 1 defines "grievance" as "any employment-related controversy or dispute arising between the parties to [the] Agreement, or between an employee and the parties to [the] agreement as to the interpretation or application of the terms and provisions of [the] Agreement, or as to the violation of any employment-related laws or statutes (except workers' compensation matters)."

{¶ 6} Article X, Section 1 prescribes that "[s]hould any grievance, controversy or dispute remain unsettled after exhausting the [grievance] procedure set forth in Article IX, either party [to the agreement], of [sic] any employee within the confines and procedures stated below, shall, if the party or employee desires, demand arbitration within thirty (30) days after failing to settle the grievance."

{¶ 7} In Article X, Section 3, the parties "further agreed that the grievance procedure set forth in Article IX and the arbitration procedure set forth in Article X


shall be, and the same hereby is, the sole and exclusive method of settling disputes, differences or controversies arising between the parties [to the agreement] or between an employee and the parties [to the agreement]." And Article X, Section 4 states:

The above procedures set forth in Articles IX and X shall apply equally to any alleged violation of laws or statutes by the Union or the Company, as alleged by an employee, including without limitation; Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act; the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act; the Employee Retirement Income Security Act; the Equal Pay Act; the Fair Labor Standards Act; the Family and Medical Leave Act; the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act; the Immigration Act of 1990; the Fair Credit Reporting Act; the Labor-Management Relations Act; the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; the Occupational Safety and Health Act (but only as to the anti-relations [sic] aspects of OSHA); alleged breaches of a Union's duty to fairly represent its employees; alleged breaches of Ohio public policy; Ohio Revised Code Chapter 4112; Ohio Revised Code Section 4112.90 (workers' compensation retaliation); Ohio Revised Code Section 4101.17; Ohio Revised Code Section 4113.52; Ohio's overtime and/or minimum wage statute; and the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act of 2008.

{¶ 8} Before answering Sinley's complaint, Superior attempted to avail itself of these provisions of the CBA and filed a motion to stay the court proceedings and to compel arbitration. Sinley filed a brief in opposition and argued that the arbitration provisions in the CBA did not "clearly and unmistakably"


include an agreement to arbitrate his claims against Superior, namely intentional employer torts falling under R.C. 2745.01. After extensive briefing by the parties, the trial court summarily denied the motion to stay the proceedings and to compel arbitration.

{¶ 9} Superior initiated a timely appeal of the trial court's decision to the Eighth District Court of Appeals. There, Superior argued that the trial court erred in failing to compel arbitration of Sinley's claims under the Ohio and Federal Arbitration Acts, R.C. Chapter 2711 and 9 U.S.C. 1 et seq. Superior explained that after an expensive lawsuit in 2014 by an employee alleging disability discrimination, Superior and the union renegotiated the CBA and agreed to expand the arbitration provisions so that future disputes alleging a violation of employment-related laws or statutes would be exclusively resolved through the grievance and arbitration procedures set forth in the CBA. Superior cited the language in Article X, Section 4 that required arbitration for "any alleged violation of laws or statutes" and claimed that Sinley's intentional tort claims were included.[1]

{¶ 10} Sinley argued that an intentional tort committed by an employer is inherently outside the scope of the employment relationship and therefore cannot be an employment-related controversy covered by the CBA. He also argued that because the CBA was silent as to claims involving R.C. 2745.01 or any intentional torts or any reference to the same, the CBA did not contain a "clear and unmistakable" requirement to resolve such claims through arbitration.

{¶ 11} The Eighth District held that the Ohio and Federal Arbitration Acts both require a trial court to stay proceedings and compel arbitration when the issue before the court may be referred to arbitration according to a written agreement and, further, that a party cannot be compelled to arbitrate an issue that it did not


agree to submit to arbitration. 2020-Ohio-4068, ¶ 15. Following Wright v. Universal Maritime Serv. Corp., 525 U.S. 70, 119 S.Ct. 391, 142 L.Ed.2d 361 (1998), in which the United States Supreme Court held that a collective-bargaining agreement must contain a "clear and unmistakable" waiver to bar a union member's statutory claim against an employer in a judicial forum, the appellate court looked to the language in the CBA.

{¶ 12} Because the CBA made no mention of R.C. 2745.01 or intentional torts, the Eighth District concluded that Sinley had not waived his right to pursue such a claim in a judicial forum. 2020-Ohio-4068 at ¶ 22. The Eighth District dismissed Superior's argument that the language in Article X, Section 4 implies that the list of laws and statutes is not exhaustive and should include Sinley's claim. The appellate court determined that that language does not meet the "bright-line rule" requiring the waiver to be express, clear, and unmistakable. Id. at ¶ 23.

{¶ 13} Because the Eighth District found this to be dispositive of the appeal, it did not consider the parties' remaining assignments of...

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