Look For The Union Label

December 21, 2008

Are you a union member thinking about suing your boss for writing up a false report about you?  Good luck.  Write your congressman.

 

This month, the Minnesota Court of Appeals just made it extremely more difficult for employees who are covered by collective bargaining agreements to sue over job-performance reviews, even if the review contains something false.

 

The case arose at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul, where a registered nurse got a written warning based on a patient’s complaint that the nurse had failed to administer a prescription drug to a patient.  But it turns out that she had given the drug.  Also,aA month earlier, the nurse had received a verbal warning after a patient accused her of being “short, abrupt, nasty and sharp.”  According to the nurse, that patient was well-known for making false complaints, and she filed a union grievance.

 

She also went to court, alleging that the Director of Nursing had defamed her.  A trial court threw out the case, and earlier this month the appeals court agreed that the dismissal was proper.  The reason?  Because a federal law, the Labor Management Relations Act, “preempts” state defamation law when—get ready—the “defamation claim is substantially dependent on the interpretation of a provision of the CBA.”  If it’s not “substantially dependent,” then you can sue under state defamation law, saith the appeals court.

 

Hmm.  This is a toughie.  The Labor Management Relations Act dates to the mid-1940s, and it generally aims to govern relations between union and management nationwide.  Makes sense.  But the federalization of our law is running rampant, something that our nation’s founders would find disturbing.  I am quite confident in saying that early American leaders never dreamed that that an employee could not go to local court to use her boss for defamation.

 

But times change, and so does the law, and so does the nation.

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