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Palmer v. Kraft Foods Global, Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 29, 2014

TRINA L. PALMER, Plaintiff,


MICHAEL M. BAYLSON, District Judge.

I. Background and Plaintiff's Allegations

Plaintiff Trina L. Palmer filed this action in Philadelphia's Court of Common Pleas against Defendants Kraft Foods Global, Inc. and Nabisco, Inc. for violations of Philadelphia's Fair Practices Ordinance. In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants discriminated against her based on her disability and retaliated against her for exercising her rights to redress this discriminatory conduct. Plaintiff's Complaint only raises state-law claims.

Plaintiff was a Machine Operator for Defendant Nabisco, Inc. from August 1979 to June 2002. She is also a member of the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union AFL-CIO Local 492. On June 21, 2002, Plaintiff's hand was crushed while on the job, which resulted in permanent injuries to her right hand. DE 1 at 9. On April 25, 2005, Plaintiff returned to work as a Machine Operator. DE 1 at 10. In July 2005, Plaintiff was placed in a new position, Warehouse Material Handler, on a temporary bid basis. DE 1 at 10. Workers assigned to jobs on temporary bids fill in for workers who hold that position on a permanent basis whenever those permanent workers are out on vacation or sick leave. DE 1 at 10. Because of Plaintiff's injury, she could not perform the task of "flour blowing"-a Machine Handler task that involves attaching a heavy hose to a machine that fills supply cars with flour. DE 1 at 10. Plaintiff received a medial note from her doctor stating that she could perform the Material Handler position with an accommodation to not do flour blowing, or she could perform the Machine Operator position so long as she did not use her right hand and wrist for repetitive actions. DE 1 at 11. After Plaintiff provided the note to Defendant, Plaintiff was permitted to work as a Material Handler without having to perform the flour-blowing task from 2005 through 2008. DE 1 at 11.

Beginning in 2008, Defendant instituted changes to Plaintiff's accommodation as a temporary bid Material Handler. Specifically, Defendant required Plaintiff to perform the flour-blowing task whenever she was the most junior Material Handler on a shift. DE 1 at 13. Because Plaintiff could not perform the flour-blowing task, when that scenario arose Defendant assigned Plaintiff to the Machine Operator position. DE 1 at 13. Plaintiff contends that this constituted a failure and refusal to accommodate her disability in violation of the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance. DE 1 at 13-14.

On September 17, 2008, Plaintiff filed a Complaint for disability discrimination with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. DE 1 at 14. In January 2009, Plaintiff applied for a permanent Material Handler job with Defendant. Defendant did not give Plaintiff the job, instead awarding it to five other workers that were less senior than her. DE 1 at 14. On April 1, 2009, Plaintiff obtained a job analysis from her doctor, which concluded that Plaintiff could perform the Material Handler job provided that she was afforded an accommodation for flour blowing. DE 1 at 14. After informing Defendant of the doctor's analysis, Defendant's warehouse manager and human resources generalist informed Plaintiff that they could not accommodate her for a permanent position after she had requested an accommodation on a temporary basis for the last three or four years on all shifts. DE 1 at 14-15.

On May 11, 2009, Plaintiff filed a second complaint with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, claiming disability discrimination and retaliation for filing her first complaint to the Commission. DE 1 at 15. On September 11, 2012, Plaintiff commenced this action in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. DE 3-1 at 7. On January 31, 2013, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint in that court. DE 1 at 8.

On October 25, 2013, Defendant removed the case to this Court. DE 1 at 1. Defendant contends that removal is proper under this Court's federal question jurisdiction.[1] 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Although Plaintiff only raises state-law claims in her complaint, Defendant argues that the complaint raises a federal question because Plaintiff's claims are completely preempted by § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185(a).

II. Legal Standard

In general, the well-pleaded complaint rule governs whether a case is removable under federal question jurisdiction. Under that rule, "a defendant may not remove a case to federal court unless the plaintiff 's complaint establishes that the case arises under' federal law." Franchise Tax Bd. of State of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. California, 463 U.S. 1, 10-11 (1983); see also Gully v. First Nat'l Bank, 299 U.S. 109, 112 (1936) ("[A] right or immunity created by the Constitution or laws of the United States must be an element, and an essential one, of the plaintiff's cause of action."). Because Plaintiff only alleges violations of the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance, the complaint does not raise a federal question under the well-pleaded complaint rule.

However, as Defendant notes in its brief, there exists an "independent corollary" to the well-pleaded complaint rule, known as the complete preemption doctrine. Under this doctrine, "the pre-emptive force of a statute is so extraordinary' that it converts an ordinary state common-law complaint into one stating a federal claim for purposes of the well-pleaded complaint rule.'" Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 393 (1987) (quoting Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 65 (1987)).

The complete preemption doctrine is frequently applied in cases raising claims that implicate § 301 of LMRA.[2] The LMRA is a statutory scheme that, among other things, governs the enforcement of collective bargaining agreements. The Supreme Court has held that "the preemptive force of § 301 is so powerful as to displace entirely any state cause of action for violations of contracts between an employer and a labor organization.'" Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 394 (quoting Franchise Tax Board, 463 U.S. at 23). Accordingly, when "the heart of the state-law complaint is a clause in the collective bargaining agreement, that complaint arises under federal law." Id. (original alterations and citations omitted). Section 301 has also been held to completely preempt state-law claims that are "substantially dependent on analysis of a collective bargaining agreement, " Int'l Broth. of Elec. Workers AFL-CIO v. Hechler, 481 U.S. 851, 859 n.3 (1987), or "inextricably intertwined with consideration of the terms" of the labor agreement, Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202, 214 (1985). In Berda v. CBS, Inc., the Third Circuit concluded that the phrase "inextricably intertwined" is equivalent to "substantial dependence." 881 F.2d 20, 27 n.8 (3d Cir. 1989).

Section 301, however, does not preempt state-law claims that only tangentially relate to the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. See Allis-Chalmers Corp., 471 U.S. at 211 ("[I]t would be inconsistent with congressional intent under [§ 301] to preempt state rules that proscribe conduct, or establish rights and obligations, independent of a labor contract."); Antol v. Esposto, 100 F.3d 1111, 1117 (3d Cir. 1996) ("Claims that are independent of a collective bargaining agreement, even if they are between employees and employers, are not removable."). "[W]hen the meaning of contract terms is not the subject of dispute, the bare fact that a collective-bargaining agreement will be consulted in the course of state-law litigation plainly does not require the claim to be extinguished." Livadas v. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 124 (1994). Furthermore, the presence of a defense that is based on the terms of a collective bargaining agreement is insufficient to establish complete preemption under § 301. Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 398-99 ("[T]he presence of a federal question, even a § 301 question, in a defensive argument does not overcome the paramount policies embodied in the well-pleaded complaint rule."). Complete preemption is determined by ...

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