By Ashley S. Kircher.

Last week, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana held that state law donning and doffing claims brought by factory workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement were preempted by the Labor Management Relations Act.  See Jones v. C & D Techs. Inc., Case No. 11-cv-1431 (Aug. 28, 2012). The plaintiffs asserted that they were denied pay for time spent donning and doffing protective clothing, and brought claims under both the Fair Labor Standards Act and Indiana’s Wage Payment Act.

The defendant moved to dismiss only the Wage Payment Act claim, arguing that it was preempted by Section 301 of the LMRA, which gives federal courts jurisdiction to enforce collective bargaining agreements. More specifically, Section 301 preempts state law claims that are directly founded on or that substantially depend on analysis of a collective bargaining agreement.

The defendant argued that because the CBA covered the activities that were the subject of the plaintiffs’ claim under the Wage Payment Act (namely, it covered when donning and doffing time was compensable), it would be impossible to consider whether the defendant violated the Wage Payment Act without first deciding whether it had breached the CBA.

The court agreed, holding that any claim that the plaintiffs may have had under the Wage Payment Act was preempted by  Section 301. The court reasoned that it was impossible to evaluate the merits of the plaintiffs’ Wage Payment Act claims without first consulting the CBA.

The court found unavailing the plaintiffs’ argument that they had deliberately chosen to avoid making any claims under the CBA. The court reasoned that the fact that the plaintiffs chose not to assert a violation of the CBA did not preclude preemption. The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that their state law claims derived from the requirements of the FLSA rather than the CBA, reasoning that the FLSA allows employers and unions to negotiate whether donning and doffing will be compensable. The plaintiffs also argued that it would be unfair to find preemption because in their view, the CBA’s grievance procedures would be futile. The court disagreed, noting that the defendant had explicitly stated that the plaintiffs’ Wage Payment Act claims were grievable under the CBA.

Though the plaintiffs’ FLSA claims were unaffected by the ruling, the case provides employers with a potential argument that state law claims brought by current or former employees that implicate collective bargaining agreements are preempted by Section 301.