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Croom v. Elkhart Products Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

September 12, 2016

AMOS CROOM, Plaintiff
v.
ELKHART PRODUCTS CORP., Defendant

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Robert L. Miller, Jr. Judge, United States District Court

         Plaintiff Amos Croom's motion to dismiss Elkhart Products Corporation's counterclaim for declaratory judgment, as amended, pends before the court. For the following reasons, the court grants the motion.

         Amos Croom filed a complaint against his former employer, Elkhart Products, under Title VII, the Family Medical Leave Act, and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 alleging that Elkhart Products had retaliated against him for requesting and/or taking FMLA leave, subjected him to disparate treatment, and terminated his employment because of his race. Elkhart Product counterclaimed, alleging that Mr. Croom's claims were subject to binding arbitration under the company's collective bargaining agreement and asking the court to declare as a matter of law that the arbitrator's decision upholding the discharge precludes Mr. Croom's discrimination and retaliation claims.

         Mr. Croom moved to dismiss the counterclaim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). He contends that Elkhart Product hasn't identified any provision of the CBA that required him to submit his FMLA or Title VII claims to arbitration, and so failed to plead any set of facts under which it may be entitled to relief, citing in support 14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett, 556 U.S. 247 (2009); Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36 (1974); Coleman v. Donahue, 667 F.3d 835 (7th Cir. 2011); St. Aubin v. Unilever HPC NA, 2009 WL 1871679 (N.D. Ill. 2009).

         In response, Elkhart Products submitted an amended counterclaim that added specific language from the CBA [Doc. No. 11-1]. The counterclaim, as amended, alleges that:

• Mr. Croom was a member of the International Association of Machinists, Local 1315, and was subject to a CBA, that provided in Article V as follows:
If a grievance is not settled through the full use of the foregoing Grievance Procedure, the union may request that it be submitted to final and binding arbitration in accordance with the following:
A. Only grievances having to do with the interpretation and application of Sections of this Agreement, including discharges and disciplinary actions may be arbitrated, it being specifically agreed that in no case and under no circumstances, may grievances of disputes concerning Management (Article III) be arbitrated....

(Emphasis added).

• Under the CBA's terms, the arbitrator had authority to “interpret and apply” the sections of the CBA prohibiting discrimination “in violation of applicable Federal legislation”, including: (1) Article II, Section 2.4, prohibiting “discrimination on account of race, color, creed, sex, national origin or age, handicap, Vietnam Veteran; or in violation of applicable Federal legislation”, and (2) “a section under Article IX, Section 9.1, addressing the use of leave pursuant to the FMLA.” • Mr. Croom grieved his discharge unsuccessfully, and the Union requested binding arbitration.
• At the arbitration hearing, Mr. Croom argued that he had been discharged without just cause and retaliated against because he was an African American, had filed an EEOC charge, and had used FMLA leave.
• The arbitrator heard testimony on those issues, and “upheld the discharge”.
• The arbitrator's decision is final and binding on all parties under Article V, Section 5.5 of the CBA, which states:
The decision of the arbitrator shall be final and binding on all parties. The arbitrator shall have no power to change, alter, detract from or add to the provisions of the agreement, but shall have the power only to interpret and ...

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