An action for back pay by a party alleging breach of a duty of fair representation is legal is nature and therefore the party is entitled to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment.
Respondent employees alleged that petitioner union violated its duty of fair representation. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed an order denying the union's motion to strike the employees' request for a jury trial. The union was granted certiorari.
Did the employees who sought back pay for the union's alleged breach of its duty of fair representation have a right to trial by jury?
The judgment upholding an order denying a union's motion to strike employees' request for a jury trial was affirmed. The Court held that the Seventh Amendment entitled the employees to a jury trial. The remedy of back pay sought in the action was legal in nature. Therefore, the employees were entitled to a jury trial on all issues presented in their suit. The employees' action encompassed both equitable and legal issues. To recover from the union, the employees had to prove that their employer breached a collective-bargaining agreement and that the union breached its duty of fair representation. The relief the employees' sought was not restitutionary, and therefore it was not equitable. The back pay was not money wrongfully held by the union, but wages the employees would have received from their employer had the union processed their grievances properly.