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Lawrence v. TVS Supply Chain Solutions North America, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

July 25, 2019

GREGORY LAWRENCE, Plaintiff,
v.
TVS SUPPLY CHAIN SOLUTIONS NORTH AMERICA, INC., et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Currently before this Court is plaintiff's motion to remand (#12), which has been fully briefed. For the reasons set forth, this Court will DENY the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are taken from plaintiff's complaint and the affidavit of Jill Chaney-Lipe, which was attached to TVS's notice of removal. See Pudlowski v. The St. Louis Rams, LLC., 829 F.3d 963, 964 (8th Cir. 2016) (holding that “discovery is available to ascertain the facts bearing on [the] issue [of jurisdiction], ” to include consideration of affidavits submitted in support of removal).

         Plaintiff states that he has a “history of disability, ” which includes mycosis fungoides and post-traumatic stress disorder-the former of which requires “phototherapy sessions” to address lesions that can cause “severe itching, contact dermatitis, peeling, burning, and cracked skin.” In the summer of 2016, plaintiff was hired by TVS as a materials analyst at its Wentzville, Missouri, facility, which “provides supply chain services to the [nearby] General Motors [] Assembly Plant.” For the first year-or-so of his employment, plaintiff's conditions appear to have had little consequence in the workplace.

         On July 17, 2017, the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America and its Local Union 282 (the “Union”) was certified by the NLRB as the sole bargaining agent for TVS's Wentzville facility. A few months later, on September 11, 2017, TVS notified the Union of General Motors' efforts to downsize production. This prompted TVS to reduce its own shifts from four to three. On September 22, 2017, TVS and the Union signed a “memorandum of agreement, ” which outlined the process of altering TVS's “manning levels and job schedules.” Pursuant to that memorandum, there would be three available shifts-a first, second, and third corresponding with morning, afternoon, and overnight-that employees would have to choose form. The second and third shifts had a slight pay premium. Placement into any particular shift was to be based on seniority if there happened to be an insufficient number of openings. As a result of this procedure, plaintiff was initially place into second shift sometime around October 4, 2017-though he requested third shift as his top preference. As he explains it, plaintiff desired third shift because his phototherapy sessions were only available “during the daytime hours, ” because an overnight shift “reduce[s] the risk of exposure to sunlight, which exacerbate[s] his [condition], ” and because an overnight shift would “reduce the risk of him having an episode of PTSD.”

         Plaintiff began inquiring about a possible workplace disability accommodation in late September or early October, 2017. He explains that TVS management only initially seemed interested in granting him leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). However, plaintiff acknowledged that TVS management was actively discussing his situation with him and that, as of December 13, 2017, “Cigna notified [him] that [his] request for workplace accommodation was under review.” During this process, plaintiff also complained of workplace sexual harassment by defendant Brand- one of plaintiff's supervisors. Plaintiff says he was then “retaliated against by Brand, ” which culminated in disciplinary action against plaintiff “for attendance.” Plaintiff also tangentially suggests that he was retaliated against for his “requested workplace accommodation, ” though it is unclear from the complaint who plaintiff is referring to as the perpetrator of this particular category of retaliation. In any event, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) on January 17, 2018; he suggests he was retaliated against for this action, as well. A few days later, on January 21, 2018, plaintiff's request for third shift was granted “based on his seniority date and a recent opening within that shift which he had the seniority to fill.”

         Months later, on April 15, 2018, TVS executed a collective bargaining agreement with the Union. Among other provisions, the CBA contained “layoff and recall” language that required “the employee with the least amount of plant seniority [to] be laid off” should permanent downsizing be deemed necessary. In May 2018, General Motors announced “that some of the job functions currently performed by materials analysts were being removed from TVS.” This prompted TVS to eliminate ten materials analysts positions. According to TVS, plaintiff was selected for layoff in accordance with Article 17, Section 3a-based on his date of seniority-that was to take effect on June 30, 2018.

         Plaintiff alleges TVS ultimately terminated him in response to his “protected activities, ” including his request for a workplace accommodation, his filing of a charge of discrimination, and his participation in an investigation involving sexual harassment by defendant Brand. However, plaintiff does not refute that he was eventually recalled on October 29, 2018, pursuant to Article 17, Section 3c, which states “employees will be recalled from layoff in reverse order of layoff, provided they are capable of performing the tasks of the open positions.” On November 5, 2018, plaintiff returned to work as a materials analyst on third shift.

         Plaintiff initially filed his lawsuit in the Circuit Court of St. Charles County, Missouri, on December 21, 2018. His complaint alleged three counts under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA). TVS then removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1441(a) on the grounds that plaintiff's state-law claims are preempted by Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. § 185. TVS contends that plaintiff's claims are “inextricable intertwined with the memorandum of agreement and collective bargaining agreement” such that preemption is unavoidable. Plaintiff opposes the motion, arguing his claims are not preempted because they require “no interpretation of any specific CBA provision, and instead [can] be resolved by looking at the conduct of plaintiff and the conduct and alleged motivations of defendant” without regard to the CBA.

         II. ANALYSIS

         This case comes to the Court under federal question jurisdiction. Ordinarily, the well-pleaded complaint rule would require the Court to narrowly consult “plaintiff's statement of his own claim … unaided by anything alleged in anticipation of avoidance of defenses which it is thought the defendant may interpose.” Aetna Health, Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 207 (2004) (quoting Taylor v. Anderson, 234 U.S. 74, 75-76 (1914)). Simply put, “the existence of a federal defense normally does not create statutory ‘arising under' jurisdiction.” Id. There is an exception, however, under the “complete preemption” doctrine, which holds that “when [a] federal statute completely preempts the state-law cause of action, a claim which comes within the scope of that cause of action, even if pleaded in terms of state law, is in reality based on federal law.” Id. at 207-208. Thus, complete preemption can totally supplant a state law claim and make removal appropriate under federal question jurisdiction. See Vaden v. Discover Bank, 556 U.S. 49, 61 (2009). To the extent it applies, the LMRA has the power of complete preemption. See Markham v. Wertin, 861 F.3d 748, 754-755 (8th Cir. 2017); Schuver v. MidAmerican Energy Co., 154 F.3d 795, 798 (8th Cir. 1998).

         Section 301 of the LMRA provides:

Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce as defined in this chapter, or between any such labor organizations, may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to ...

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