Pyett Files Brief in Supreme Court Arbitration Case

The Respondents in the Pyett v. 14 Penn Plaza case, to be argued in the United States Supreme Court this fall, filed their brief this week. Pyett’s argument is based primarily on a belief that Gardner-Denver, is still good law. According to respondents, “This Court’s holding in Alexander v. Gardner-Denver-Co., 415 U.S. 36 (1974), that a union cannot waive an employee’s right to a judicial forum under the federal antidiscrimination statutes, applies directly to this case.”

Moreover, the respondents rely on the collective v. individual rights argument made in Gardner-Denver and subsequent cases, i.e. that a union represents collective interests and therefore cannot be permitted to waive individual rights: “Although a union is authorized to waive employees’ collective rights in order to further self-governance between the employer and the union, the union’s waiver authority does not extend to employees’ individual, non-economic rights under the federal antidiscrimination statutes. A union is obligated to further the collective interest of its bargaining unit,and this obligation necessarily takes precedence over,
and often conflicts with, the individual interests and rights of its employees. Because the federal antidiscrimination statutes protect “not majoritarian processes, but an individual’s right to equal employment opportunities,” Gardner-Denver, 415 U.S. at 51,the vindication of that right can only be committed to arbitration by the aggrieved individual, and not by the union in a collective bargaining agreement.”

The brief falters when it attempts to distinguish the Court’s previous decision in Wright v. Universal Maritime Services. While acknowledging that the Court in that case said in dicta that a union’s clear and unmistakable waiver of an individual’s rights to bring a statutory claim in court would potentially be enforceable, the brief avoids discussion of whether the waiver in this case was clear and unmistakable. Instead, it emphasizes that the precedent which should apply is Gardner-Denver.