- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court has ruled for employers who want to force unionized workers to pursue their age discrimination claims through arbitration instead of a federal lawsuit.

In a 5-4 decision Wednesday, the court said an arbitration agreement negotiated between an employer and a union is binding on workers and strips them of their option to take complaints to court.

In the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said: “We hold that a collective-bargaining agreement that clearly and unmistakably requires union members to arbitrate age discrimination claims is enforceable as a matter of federal law.”

The lawsuit came after night duty watchmen at a New York City office building were reassigned to jobs as night porters and light duty cleaners. Their union challenged the reassignments but withdrew the age discrimination complaints from arbitration. Their employer then asked the federal courts to force the complaints back into arbitration, since that’s what their union contract required.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City ruled that “a collective bargaining agreement could not waive covered workers’ rights to a judicial forum for causes of action created by Congress” like the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The high court’s majority disagreed.

“A union may agree to the inclusion of an arbitration provision in a collective bargaining agreement in return for other concessions from a lawyer,” Thomas said. “Courts generally may not interfere in this bargained-for exchange.”

The four liberal justices dissented from the ruling, saying the Supreme Court has previously decided that unions cannot bargain away employees’ federal forum rights in discrimination cases.

“There is no argument for abandoning precedent here,” Justice David Souter said.

The case is 14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett, 07-581.

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