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The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that federal courts could hear a former UPS employee's Title VII sex discrimination claim, despite the fact that the company's collective bargaining agreement provided a grievance procedure for statutory discrimination claims.
Amber Ibarra worked as a package car driver for the United Parcel Service (UPS) until the company terminated her for "recklessness resulting in a serious accident" after she lost control of her van and struck a telephone pole while delivering packages. Plenty of people run into telephone polls -- for various reasons -- but UPS apparently frowns upon such incidents.
Ibarra filed a grievance under her union's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) challenging her termination; she never raised the issue of sex discrimination during her grievance hearings. Ibarra's termination was upheld in both a local hearing and at a subsequent committee review.
Next, she filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and a Title VII lawsuit within 90 days of receiving a right to sue notice.
UPS moved for summary judgment, arguing that the CBA grievance procedure provided Ibarra's exclusive remedy for her Title VII sex discrimination claim, and Ibarra "failed to exhaust that remedy by failing to assert discrimination by UPS in the grievance process." The district court agreed, and granted summary judgment.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision.
The appellate court noted that the grievance process established in the CBA only formed an exclusive remedy for Ibarra's Title VII claim if the CBA clearly and unmistakably waived her right to pursue her Title VII claim in a judicial forum. Here, it did no such thing.
The two relevant provisions in Ibarra's CBA -- Articles 51 and 36 -- addressed grievance procedures and non-discrimination. Because Article 36 made no specific mention of federal or state statutes -- and no reference to the grievance procedures set forth in Article 51 -- the court concluded that the CBA did not contain an express waiver of a judicial forum for Title VII claims.
A CBA can provide the exclusive framework to resolve a Title VII claim, but it must include an unmistakable waiver of a judicial hearing.