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New Jersey Truck Driver Escapes Preemption Pitfall, Gets Renewed Chance to Pursue His Disability Discrimination Case

truckWhen you’ve suffered from employment discrimination, you may find yourself facing many hurdles on the way to getting your day in court and compensation for the harm you’ve suffered. For one New Jersey truck driver, his hurdles included convincing the courts that his Law Against Discrimination case was not preempted by a federal law related to collective bargaining agreements. In this driver’s case, his state law claims existed outside the parameters of the CBA between his union and his employer, which meant that there was no preemption, and he could go forward with his case.

The events that eventually triggered this case began with a workplace injury. The employee, a commercial truck driver, suffered a knee injury. Almost six months after the injury, the driver was cleared to return to work with no restrictions. The employer, however, refused to put the man back on the job until he got re-certified under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation 49 C.F.R. 391.45(c).

Eventually, the driver sued, asserting claims of disability discrimination in violation of the Law Against Discrimination and retaliation for a workers’ compensation claim he filed. The employer made several arguments in its defense. One asserted that the driver’s claims were pre-empted by Section 301 of the Labor Management and Relations Act.

The rule of preemption can be a tricky hurdle for some employees harmed by discrimination. Preemption says that, in some cases, the existence of certain federal laws prevents plaintiffs from asserting certain state law claims. In this case, the employer argued that Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act triggered preemption and barred this driver from bringing claims under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination and Workers’ Compensation Law.

In order for Section 301 preemption to apply and end this driver’s state law case, the driver’s claims would have to force the court deciding his case to interpret one or more elements of the collective bargaining agreement between the employer and its unionized drivers.

The trial judge accepted that argument, but the Appellate Division did not, concluding that the driver was allowed to pursue his case. In this situation, the driver had certain rights available to him under his CBA and certain rights available under state law. The driver’s circumstances were similar to a case previously decided by the Supreme Court, in which an employee had asserted claims under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act. In that case, the court stated that the employee’s CEPA claim wasn’t preempted. The employee, as the court explained, was “not asking New Jersey courts to use New Jersey law to define the ins and outs of his bargained-for employment relationship” with his employer. “He is asking our courts to enforce his rights under CEPA, independent and apart from his” rights bargained for under the CBA. In such a situation, the employee was allowed to pursue his whistleblower case, and, similarly, this truck driver was allowed to pursue his discrimination and retaliation claims.

Every employment discrimination case comes with its own set of hurdles and challenges. You need experienced counsel representing you and fighting for your rights. The experienced New Jersey disability discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates have spent many years fighting for workers in their discrimination cases. Contact us online or at (619) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation with one of our skilled and experienced attorneys.

More blog posts:

Making Sure You Get the Full Benefit of Your New Jersey Discrimination Damages Award, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, May 12, 2017

New Jersey State Police Employee Receives $500K For Employer’s Failure to Accommodate His Disability, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, April 13, 2017

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