Because most collective-bargaining agreements accord finality to grievance or arbitration procedures established by the collective-bargaining agreement, an employee normally cannot bring a § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, 61 Stat. 156, 29 U.S.C.S. § 185, action against an employer unless he can show that the union breached its duty of fair representation in its handling of his grievance. Whether the employee sues both the labor union and the employer or only one of those entities, he must prove the same two facts to recover money damages: that the employer's action violated the terms of the collective-bargaining agreement and that the union breached its duty of fair representation.
Certain employees of a trucking company filed suit against their employer and the union after a failed resort to its grievance machinery. They alleged that the employer breached the collective bargaining agreement while the union violated its duty of fair representation. After the injunction and money damages against the employer were dismissed for bankruptcy, the union moved to strike the employees' demand for jury trial, contending that no right to jury trial exists in a suit alleging breach of the duty of fair representation. The district court denied the motion and upheld the employees right to jury trial. This was affirmed on appeal.
Do employees who sought back pay for a union's alleged breach of its duty of fair representation have a right to trial by jury.
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.