Labor Law-State Court Jurisdiction Over Employee’s Damage Action Against Union for Failure To Process Fully Grievance Is Not Pre-empted by the NLRB-Sipes v. Vaca

Plaintiff, discharged by his employer on the ground that he was no longer physically able to work, enlisted the aid of his union to contest the dismissal. Under the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the employer, the union was to seek redress of employee complaints by means of a five step grievance procedure, with arbitration as the final step. The union processed plaintiff’s grievance without success through the first four steps of the procedure, but refused to take the issue to the arbitral level. Plaintiff brought suit against the union in a Missouri county circuit court, claiming damages sustained as a result of the union’s “arbitrary” and “capricious” refusal to process fully his grievance. The jury awarded actual and punitive damages, but the court set aside the verdict on the ground that the jurisdiction of the state court had been pre-empted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The Kansas City Court of Appeals affirmed. On appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court, held, reversed and jury verdict reinstated. A discharged employee’s suit against his union based upon its wrongful refusal to process fully his grievance is a purely internal union matter, and, as such, is not subject to pre-emption by the NLRB.