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Unions in New York may not always be able to rely on federal labor law to override state law discrimination claims filed against them in their capacity as bargaining representatives.
The National Labor Relations Act’s requirement that unions represent their members fairly doesn’t necessarily preempt the New York State Human Rights Law, which prohibits discrimination by unions, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held July 25 ( Figueroa v. Foster , 2d Cir., No. 16-1856, 7/25/17 ). It reversed a ruling in favor of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ against the New York State Division of Human Rights.
The Second Circuit’s decision adds to a split among federal appeals courts about the type of analysis that should be used in determining whether the NLRA’s fair duty of representation will preempt a state law. The appeals court sided with at least three other circuits by analyzing whether the state law conflicts with a federal law in a way that would make it impossible to comply with both.
That standard is generally considered less stringent than the field preemption analysis adopted by another three circuits. Field preemption occurs when federal law “occupies an entire field of regulation and leaves no room for state law,” the court explained.
The duty of fair representation doesn’t encompass “the kind of total field preemption that would foreclose the NYSHRL from claims of discrimination filed by union members against a labor organization even when it is acting in its capacity as a collective bargaining agent,” the court said.
It also found no conflict between the duty and state anti-discrimination laws. However, the court noted that its opinion “doesn’t purport to address every potential conflict between the NYSHRL and federal law.”
“We hold only that the NYSHRL presents no potential conflict so incompatible with federal labor laws that all of its provisions must fall,” the court said. “We leave for other cases to resolve more specific conflicts between the NYSHRL and federal law as they arise.”
Representatives of the union and the New York agency didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg BNA’s July 25 requests for comment.
Judge Rosemary S. Pooler wrote the opinion, joined by Judges Guido Calabresi and Richard C. Wesley.
James M. Reif and Jessica E. Harris of Gladstein, Reif & Meginniss in New York represented Local 32BJ. Assistant Solicitor General Andrew R. Davies of the New York State Office of the Attorney General in New York represented the state agency.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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