MELENDEZ et al., , v. SAN FRANCISCO BASEBALL ASSOCIATES LLC,
April 25, 2019 (2019 DJDAR 3432)
The Supreme Court held that Section 301(a) does not preempt this lawsuit. The decision was unanimous: George Melendez, (“Plaintiffs”) a security guard at the park, was the lead plaintiff in this putative class action against the Francisco Baseball Associates LLC (“Giants”). He contended that he and other security guards were employed intermittingly for specific job assignments (baseball games or other events) and were discharged at the end of a homestand, at the end of a baseball season, at the end of an inter-season event like a fan fest, college football game, a concert, a series of shows, or other events, and that under California Labor Code (“LC”), they were entitled to but did not receive immediate payment of their final wages upon each such discharge. Plaintiffs seek to recover penalties under LC, §203 for the Giants failure to pay them immediately after each such discharge. The Giants seek to invoke Section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947. (“Section 301(a),” claiming that the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) controls. California’s LC, §201(a) states, “[I]f an employer discharges an employee, the wages earned and unpaid at the time of discharge are due and payable immediately.” §201(a) Plaintiffs are suing the Giants for allegedly violating §201(a). They claim they are discharged after every Giants homestand, at the end of the baseball season, and after other events at the park, and they are entitled under LC, §201)a) to receive their unpaid wages immediately after each such discharge. The Giants deny that the security guards are discharged on those occasions. They contend that LC, §204, which generally requires semimonthly payment of employees’ wages, applies to the guards.
The issue before the Supreme Court is when is a discharge not a discharge under LC, §201?Plaintiffs contend that “discharge” means discharge and that the interpretation of their CBA does not come into play in this case. Defendants contend that this lawsuit requires interpretation of the CBA that the guards union has entered into with the Giants. This is significant because if the Giants win, the case would be referred to federal court under Section 301(a). That section provides: “[S]units for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce as defined in this chapter, or between any such labor organizations, may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties,” [under the broad meaning] of 301(a). The Giants contend that the security guards are not intermittent employees but are year-round employees who remain employed with the Giants until they resign or are terminated pursuant to the CBA. To support this contention, they cite provisions of the agreement entered into between the Giants and the union that represents the security guards, the Service Employees International Union, United Services Workers West of San Francisco. Under the CBA, the classification of employees is based on the number of hours worked in a year, itself suggesting that employment is considered to continue beyond the conclusion of each event. Continued classification as a regular employee requires at least 1,700 hours of work in a year. All employees shall be probationary employees for their first five hundred (500) hours of work with the Giants. Employees rise to senior and super senior status by working a minimum of 300 hours each year for the last five or 10 years, hardly possible if each event is deemed a separate employment, the Giants claim.
The merit of the Plaintiffs’ case is not at issue here, only whether the CBA trumps LC §201, when there is no dispute as to any terms in the CBA, e.g., whether its language preempts LC §201.The trial court denied the Giant’s motion to compel arbitration. The Court of Appeals reversed and ruled that Plaintiffs had to submit to arbitration. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and held that the meaning of “discharge” turned on its meaning under LC, §201, e.g., state law, and therefore not preempted by Section 301(a).