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August 02, 2017

Resolving conflicts between the New York State Human Rights Law and the National Labor Relations Act


Resolving conflicts between the New York State Human Rights Law and the National Labor Relations Act
Figueroa v Foster, USCA, Second Circuit, Docket Nos. 16-1856-cv(L), 16-1864-cv(XAP)

The issue before the Court in this action concerned whether the duty of fair representation under the National Labor Relations Act [NLRA] preempted the New York State Human Rights Law [NYSHRL] with respect to claims of unlawful discrimination filed by a union member against a labor organization when the labor organization was acting in its capacity as a collective bargaining representative in contrast to its acting as an employer.

If, said the court, the NLRA’s duty of fair representation preempts the NYSHRL, then Title VII as administered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will serve as the primary force protecting union members from "invidious discrimination by their labor organizations."

If, on the other hand, opined the Circuit Court, the NLRA’s duty of fair representation does not preempt the NYSHRL, then the NYSHRL as administered by the New York State Division of Human Rights will provide union members with additional protections against invidious discrimination by their labor organizations.

Holding that hold that the NLRA’s duty of fair representation did not preempt* the NYSHRL either on the basis of field preemption, i.e, the federal government has fully occupied the fieldit has chosen to regulate, or as a general matter on the basis of conflict preemption, i.e., is it impossible for a party to comply with both state law and federal law, the Circuit Court reversed the declaratory judgment of the district court.

The decision cautions that this opinion "addresses only the Local’s claim that the duty of fair representation preempts the NYSHRL in its entirety when applied to unions acting in their capacity as collective bargaining agents."

In the words of the Circuit Court: "We do not purport to address every potential conflict between the NYSHRL and federal law" in this ruling.

* Under the doctrine of preemption based on Article VI, Paragraph 2 of the Constitution of the United States, the so-called Supremacy Clause, federal law preempts state law, even when such laws are in conflict.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/decisions/isysquery/27722fb4-6571-480b-ab91-18b80fd52a6b/8/doc/16-1856_opn.pdf#xml=http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/decisions/isysquery/27722fb4-6571-480b-ab91-18b80fd52a6b/8/hilite/

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