Phelps v. MultiCare Health System

Filing 84

ORDER granting 54 Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment; this matter is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE; signed by Judge Ronald B. Leighton.(DN)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT TACOMA 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 CASE NO. 3:15-cv-05120-RBL TANYA PHELPS, Plaintiff, v. ORDER ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT MULTICARE HEALTH SYSTEM, d/b/a TACOMA GENERAL HOSPITAL, Defendant. 16 THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 54) 17 of Defendant Multicare Health System (Multicare). The Court has considered the motion, 18 Plaintiff Tanya Phelps’ Response (Dkt. 70), Multicare’s Reply (Dkt. 72), and the remainder of 19 the file herein. Because Ms. Phelps’ state law claims are preempted by §301 of the Labor 20 Relations Management Act (LRMA) (see Dkt. 15), and she has not satisfied certain prerequisites 21 to filing suit, Multicare’s motion for summary judgment of dismissal should be granted. 22 23 24 ORDER ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT - 1 BACKGROUND 1 2 This case began in Pierce County Superior Court, where Ms. Phelps, a nurse by training, 3 filed suit against a former employer, Multicare, d/b/a Tacoma General Hospital. Dkt. 1. The 4 Complaint centers on the allegation that Ms. Phelps was forced to resign due to serious 5 disabilities, a result that followed Multicare’s failure to accommodate her medical leave needs, 6 as well as an onslaught of offensive comments by coworkers, including supervisors. See 7 generally, Dkt. 1-1. The Complaint alleges state law claims for disability discrimination, hostile 8 environment, disparate treatment, and retaliation in violation of the Washington Law Against 9 Discrimination (WLAD), and a common law claim for “intentional infliction of emotional 10 distress, outrage.” Dkt. 1-1 at 10. 11 Raising federal question jurisdiction and invoking §301 of LMRA, Multicare timely 12 removed the case under the theory that Ms. Phelps’ claims fall under the terms of a collective 13 bargaining agreement (CBA). Dkt. 1 at ¶¶4-7. 28 U.S.C. §1331. Ms. Phelps challenged 14 Multicare’s theory in a Motion to Remand. Dkt. 15. The Court denied the motion, finding that 15 Ms. Phelps’ state law claims are preempted by §301 of the LMRA. Id. at 3. See Textile Workers 16 v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, 456 (1957) (federal question jurisdiction over CBA 17 controversies). Considering Ms. Phelps’ claims would require the Court to analyze and interpret 18 the CBA that formed the basis of Ms. Phelps’ employment. Id. 19 DISCUSSION Multicare argues that summary judgment of dismissal is warranted on two grounds: (1) 20 21 Ms. Phelps’ claims are preempted by §301 of the LMRA, and Ms. Phelps has not satisfied 22 several prerequisites to filing suits governed by the CBA; and (2) Ms. Phelps’ claims fail on the 23 merits. 24 ORDER ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT - 2 1 2 A. Preemption under §301 of the LMRA and prerequisites to filing suit. According to Multicare, because Ms. Phelps’ state law claims are preempted by §301 of 3 the LMRA (see Dkt. 15), Ms. Phelps must meet certain prerequisites prior to bringing suit: (a) 4 exhaust grievance/arbitration remedies; (b) file claims within six months; and (c) allege or to 5 make a showing that the Union breached its duty of fair representation. Dkt. 54 at 15. 6 Ms. Phelps does not contest that she has failed to meet these three prerequisites. See Dkt. 7 70 at 20-23. Instead, Ms. Phelps argues that preemption is not warranted in the first place, 8 because her claims are “factually and legally” independent of the CBA and do not require its 9 interpretation, and there is an “overwhelming” public policy interest in enforcement of state 10 discrimination laws and no undue interference with the federal regulatory scheme. Id. citing to 11 Hume v. Am. Disposal Co., 124 Wn.2d 656 (1994). In essence, Ms. Phelps requests the Court to 12 reconsider its preemption finding. Before considering the prerequisites raised by Multicare, the 13 Court will revisit its preemption finding with additional depth. 14 1. Preemption under §301 of the LMRA. 15 Whether a state cause of action is preempted by §301 of the LMRA depends on whether 16 resolving the state law claims requires interpreting the CBA. Lingle v. Norge Div. of Magic Chef, 17 Inc., 486 U.S. 399, 405–06 (1988); Jimeno v. Mobil Oil Corp., 66 F.3d 1514, 1522–23 (9th 18 Cir.1995). To assess whether the claims are independent of the CBA, the Ninth Circuit employs 19 a three-part test that considers: 20 (a) whether the CBA contains provisions that govern the actions giving rise to a state claim, and if so, 21 22 23 (b) whether the state has articulated a standard sufficiently clear that the state claim can be evaluated without considering the overlapping provisions of the CBA, and (c) whether the state has shown an intent not to allow its prohibition to be altered or removed by private contract. 24 ORDER ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT - 3 1 Miller v. AT & T Network Sys., 850 F.2d 543, 548 (9th Cir.1988). State law claims are preempted 2 when the answer to the first question is “yes,” and the answer to either the second or third 3 question is “no.” Id. See, e.g., Andreasen v. Supervalu, Inc., No. 12-CV-05914-RBL, 2013 WL 4 2149714, at *3–4 (W.D. Wash. May 16, 2013). 5 As supplemental analysis to its original finding (see Dkt. 15), the Court will apply the 6 Miller three-part test to Ms. Phelps’ disability discrimination claim. Dkt. 1-1 at ¶5(a). 7 a. Does the CBA govern the actions giving rise to a state claim? 8 Yes. Under the terms of the CBA, discrimination is prohibited except where it constitutes 9 a “bona fide occupational qualification,” and airing discrimination grievances triggers 10 obligations by Multicare. Dkt. 2-1 at ¶¶5.6, 5.7, 5.8. Grievances are subject to a specific 11 procedure, and Multicare may only discipline or discharge for “just cause.” Id. ¶¶5.6, 13.1-13.4. 12 Extended Illness/Injury Time (EIT), Paid Time Off (PTO), and Health Leave may be accrued 13 and utilized in certain ways, and the circumstances are prescribed for employees returning to 14 work after extended absence. Id. at ¶¶9.4, 10.5, 10.6, 10.8. These and other CBA terms govern 15 the actions giving rise to the disability discrimination claim, because, in Ms. Phelps’ own words, 16 “she was forced to resign due to her serious disabilities,” Dkt. 70 at 1, whereas Multicare insists 17 that its actions, including actions taken to replace Ms. Phelps, were legitimate under the CBA 18 terms. The CBA defines the procedure and bases for Multicare to take adverse employment 19 actions, so the reasonableness of Multicare’s actions—and thus the disability discrimination 20 claim itself—turns on interpreting the CBA. The Court must answer the first Miller question in 21 the affirmative. 22 23 24 ORDER ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT - 4 1 b. Has the State articulated a sufficiently clear standard that the State claims may be evaluated without considering the overlapping provisions of the CBA? 2 3 No. Under the WLAD, employers are prohibited from “discharg[ing] or bar[ring] any 4 person from employment” on the basis of a disability. RCW 49.60.180(2). “Disability” is defined 5 as “the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability.” WAC 162-26-040(2). To 6 establish a prima facie case of disability discrimination, the employee must show: (1) a 7 disability, (2) the ability to perform “essential functions” of the job, and (3) the employer’s 8 failure to make reasonable accommodations. Dedman v. Wash. Personnel Appeals Board, 98 9 Wn.App. 471, 478 (Div. II, 1999). 10 Although the State provisions provide sufficiently clear standards to evaluate the 11 disability discrimination claim, evaluation cannot be done without consideration of overlapping 12 CBA terms, particularly as to the third element, failure to make reasonable accommodations. 13 According to Ms. Phelps, Multicare should have been more accommodating to Ms. Phelps for a 14 host of ongoing health problems, for example, where Multicare advised Ms. Phelps that 15 proceeding with a scheduled medical operation would result in her termination. To resolve 16 whether Multicare acted reasonably in its accommodations—or lack thereof—the trier of fact 17 must ultimately consider the state law through the lens of the CBA terms. Because of the 18 significant overlap, the Court must answer the second Miller question in the negative. 19 c. Has the State of Washington shown an intent not to allow its prohibition to be altered or removed by private contract? 20 Because the answers are “yes” and “no” to the first and second questions respectively, the 21 Court need not reach the third question, and the WLAD disability discrimination claim is 22 preempted. 23 24 ORDER ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT - 5 1 2 2. Prerequisites to filing suit. Having again addressed the underlying preemption challenge raised by Ms. Phelps, the 3 Court turns to the prerequisites raised by Multicare. The primary issue is whether Ms. Phelps has 4 satisfied certain prerequisites to filing suit, because if not, her claims are barred. She has not. 5 First, because Ms. Phelps’ claims are intertwined with interpreting the CBA, she must 6 exhaust all grievance remedies prior to filing suit. “[I]t is settled that the employee must at least 7 attempt to exhaust exclusive grievance and arbitration procedures established by the bargaining 8 agreement.” Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 184-85 (1967); Herman v. United Bhd. of Carpenters 9 & Joiners of America, Local Union No. 971, 60 F.3d 1375, 1379 (9th Cir.1995). “[T]he grievance 10 machinery under a collective bargaining agreement is at the very heart of the system of industrial 11 self-government.” Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., 363 U.S. 574, 581 (1960). 12 Ms. Phelps does not argue that she has even attempted to exhaust her remedies, nor does the 13 Court find any basis in the record to support such a finding. There is no showing that an 14 exception to the general rule should apply. Vaca, 386 U.S. 185-87. See also, e.g., Sidhu v. Flecto 15 Co., Inc., 279 F.3d 896, 898-99 (9th Cir.2002) (employer estopped from relying on defense of 16 failure to exhaust where employer repudiated CBA grievance procedures designed to resolve the 17 grievance). 18 Second, because Ms. Phelps’ claims fall under §301 of the LMRA, they are subject to a 19 six month statute of limitations. 29 U.S.C. § 160(b). “Congress established a limitations period 20 attuned to what it viewed as the proper balance between the national interests in stable 21 bargaining relationships and finality of private settlements[.]” DelCostello v. Int’l Broth. of 22 Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 170 (1983). Ms. Phelps has made no showing that she filed her claim 23 within six months of the incident, nor has she provided any basis for equitable tolling. 24 ORDER ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT - 6 1 Third, employees may be entitled to a claim for damages independent from the terms of a 2 CBA where a union breaches its duty of fair representation. Scott v. Machinists Auto. Trades 3 Dist. Lodge No. 190 of N. California, 827 F.2d 589, 592 (9th Cir. 1987), citing to Vaca, 386 U.S. 4 at 181-83. Applied here, the Complaint does not allege—nor does Ms. Phelps argue—that the 5 Union breached its duty of fair representation. 6 Because Ms. Phelps’ claims are preempted by §301 of the LMRA, to proceed with her 7 claim, Ms. Phelps must satisfy certain prerequisites, which she has failed to do. Therefore, 8 summary judgment of dismissal in favor Multicare is warranted. The Court makes no judgment 9 as to whether Ms. Phelps’ claims could proceed administratively under the terms of the CBA; the 10 case should be dismissed without prejudice. 11 B. The merits. 12 Multicare argues in the alternative that there are no material issues of fact for any claim. 13 Dkt. 54 at 15-25. Because dismissal is warranted on other grounds, the Court declines to reach 14 the merits. 15 Therefore, it is hereby ORDERED: 16 Defendant Multicare Health System’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 54) is 17 GRANTED. The case is DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. 18 It is so ordered. 19 The Clerk is directed to send uncertified copies of this Order to all counsel of record and 20 21 22 23 to any party appearing pro se at said party’s last known address. Dated this 6th day of July, 2017. A Ronald B. Leighton United States District Judge 24 ORDER ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT - 7

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