Health Systems, 847 F. Supp. 1232 (D. N.J. 1994), Randolph's failure to use the formal grievance procedure precludes him from bringing his statutory claims in federal court, and his action must therefore be dismissed. We disagree.
Gilmer involved a plaintiff who had agreed in his employment application "to arbitrate any dispute, claim or controversy" arising between him and his employer. Gilmer, 500 U.S. at 23. After he was dismissed, the plaintiff sued his former employer in federal court alleging violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). The Supreme Court found that the employment agreement at issue required the arbitration of not only contractual but also statutory claims and that the plaintiff was therefore barred from bringing his ADEA action. Courts have applied the principles articulated in Gilmer to also preclude Title VII claims in cases involving employees who agree to arbitrate employment disputes with their employers. See, e.g., Bender v. A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc., 971 F.2d 698, 700 (11th Cir. 1992); Mago v. Shearson Lehman Hutton, Inc. 956 F.2d 932, 935 (9th Cir. 1992); see also Hirras v. National R.R. Passenger Corp., 10 F.3d 1142, 1146-1148 (5th Cir. 1994) (Title VII claim arising out of terms and conditions of employment between railroad employee and employer was subject to mandatory arbitration provisions of the Railway Labor Act.)
We find, however, that the facts of this case fall more squarely under another line of Supreme Court precedent beginning with the decision in Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U.S. 36, 39 L. Ed. 2d 147, 94 S. Ct. 1011 (1974). In Alexander, the Court permitted a union employee who had exhausted grievance procedures under a collective bargaining agreement to bring a Title VII claim in federal court, even though the last step of the grievance procedure had provided for final and binding arbitration and the outcome of the arbitral procedure was unfavorable to the plaintiff. In holding that collective bargaining agreements do not require employees to submit statutory claims to grievance procedures, the Court made clear that contractual disputes arising out of the collective-bargaining agreement itself are distinct and separate from an employee's statutory rights. Alexander, 415 U.S. at 49-50.
The same holding was reached in subsequent cases involving different statutes, and in each case the Court emphasized that grievance procedures under collective-bargaining agreements protect only contractual rights. See Barrentine v. Arkansas-Best Freight System, Inc., 450 U.S. 728, 67 L. Ed. 2d 641, 101 S. Ct. 1437 (1981) (involving claim under Fair Labor Standards Act); McDonald v. West Branch, 466 U.S. 284, 292, 80 L. Ed. 2d 302, 104 S. Ct. 1799 (1984) (involving claim brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983). The Court in the Alexander line of cases recognized that collective bargaining is a "majoritarian process" in which the balancing of individual and collective interests might lead a union to sacrifice statutorily granted benefits, and it concluded that this tension between individual and group interests should not be permitted to compromise statutory rights conferred by Congress on individual employees. See Gardner-Denver, 415 U.S. at 51; see also Barrentine, 450 U.S. at 742.
Nothing in Gilmer suggests that the Court abandoned its concern about the inherent conflicts between group goals and individual rights that exist in the give-and-take of the collective bargaining process. In fact, the Court in Gilmer clearly distinguished the holding in that case from its holdings in Gardner-Denver, Barrentine, and McDonald, emphasizing that an important concern in those cases not present in Gilmer was the "tension between collective representation and individual statutory rights." Gilmer, 500 U.S. at 35. Although it is true that Gilmer allows employees individually to enter contracts under which they agree to submit statutory claims to arbitration, we believe that the Alexander line of authority compels the conclusion that the holding in Gilmer should be narrowly construed and should not extend to discrimination suits arising under labor contracts.
Other courts addressing this issue have reached similar conclusions. See, e.g., Griffith v. Keystone Steel & Wire Co., 858 F. Supp. 802, 804 (C.D. Ill. 1994); Claps v. Moliterno Stone Sales, Inc., 819 F. Supp. 141, 147 (D. Conn. 1993); Block v. Art Iron, Inc., 866 F. Supp. 380, No. CIVIL 1:94 CV117, 1994 WL 592265 *3 (N.D. Ind., Oct. 19, 1994).
Some courts have taken a more limited view of Alexander/Barrentine/McDonald and have expanded Gilmer to hold that a collective-bargaining agreement could require arbitration of federal statutory claims, if mandatory arbitration of those claims were specifically provided for in the agreement. See Austin, 844 F. Supp. at 1106; Adams v. Burlington Northern R. Co., 843 F. Supp. 686, 691 (D. Kan. 1994);
Even if we were to adopt this more expansive view of Gilmer, a review of the Labor Agreement in this case reveals that, unlike the employment agreement at issue in Gilmer, the Labor Agreement does not specifically provide that an employee's statutory discrimination claims are subject to compulsory arbitration. In Gilmer, the plaintiff had agreed to arbitrate "any dispute, claim or controversy" arising between him and the defendant "that is required to be arbitrated under the rules, constitutions or by-laws" of the New York Stock Exchange. Gilmer, 500 U.S. at 23. NYSE Rule 347 provided for arbitration of "any controversy between a registered representative and any member or member organization arising out of the employment or termination of employment of such registered representative." Id. (emphasis added). The Court construed this language to conclude that the employment agreement specifically provided for compulsory arbitration of Gilmer's ADEA claim. Id.
While the language of the employment agreement itself in Gilmer compelled the conclusion that statutory claims fell within the ambit of the mandatory arbitration provision, we find that the Labor Agreement in the present case does not compel a similar conclusion. The Labor Agreement here states that its provisions "constitute the sole procedure for the processing and settlement of any claim by an employee or the Union of a violation by the Company of this Agreement." Labor Agreement at 3, P 2 (emphasis added). Moreover, the "Grievance Procedure" outlined in the Labor Agreement defines "grievance" as a "complaint or request of an employee or the Union which involves the interpretation or application of, or compliance with, the provisions of this Agreement." Labor Agreement at 39, P 59. These provisions indicate that the grievance procedure was intended to apply only to contractual claims concerning violations of the Labor Agreement. Randolph does not assert in his Complaint that Cooper breached the Labor Agreement but rather asserts that the actions of Cooper and its employees violated his rights conferred on him by Congress under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, not under the Labor Agreement.
As the Supreme Court in Alexander noted,
In submitting his grievance to arbitration, an employee seeks to vindicate his contractual right under a collective bargaining agreement. By contrast, in filing a lawsuit under Title VII, an employee asserts independent statutory rights accorded by Congress. The distinctly separate nature of these contractual and statutory rights is not vitiated merely because both were violated as a result of the same factual occurrence.