US District Court Returns Retaliatory Discharge Claim to State Court for Lack of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

Philip Crosby worked for Cooper B-Line Inc., a manufacturer of electrical components and tools.  A portion of Crosby’s middle finger was severed while he was working on the job on July 28, 2010. Crosby filed a claim in the Illinois Industrial Commission under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act.  He asked for his medical bills to be paid and for temporary total disability benefits. 

Crosby returned to work in September 2010.  In a conversation with his manager, Crosby allegedly argued that he did not intend to refrain from using the unsafe work practice that led to his injury.  His employer, Cooper, then suspended him for 3 days without pay as a disciplinary measure.  A grievance was filed on behalf of Crosby by his union. 

A few days later, Crosby was accused of violating a different safety regulation and was fired. At this point, the union representing workers at Crosby  asked that his termination be referred to as a permanent lay off without recall rights. That would make him eligible for unemployment benefits and a neutral job reference for the future.

Cooper agreed on the condition that Crosby settle his grievance against the company. Crosby signed a settlement agreement dismissing his grievance on the condition that his termination be  classified as neutral.

In 2011, Crosby sued in Illinois state court maintaining that the entire process that led to his grievance settlement was a sham.  He claimed that he was fired because he filed a workers’ compensation claim after the partial loss of one of his fingers.

Cooper removed the state case to federal court, arguing that Crosby’s claim was really a claim under his collective bargaining agreement that was necessarily covered by §301 of the federal Labor Management Relations Act. 

When discovery was finished in the case, Cooper moved and was granted summary judgment. The district court found that Crosby’s claim failed on the merits.Crosby then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, arguing for the first time that the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. 

The first part of the court of appeal’s opinion was that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Labor Management Relations Act completely pre-empts any state law claim requiring interpretation of a corrective bargaining agreement.

The court stated that the pre-emption rule does not apply if the collective bargaining agreement only arises because it was raised as part of the defense asserted by the defendants. 

The panel concluded that Crosby’s complaint did not bring his claims under the auspices under the federal act. Even though Cooper raised the pre-emption as a defense, he did not convert Crosby’s state action into a federal question. Because there was no basis for federal subject-matter jurisdiction, the court of appeals reversed the district court and sent the case back to the state court for further disposition.

Philip M. Crosby v. Cooper B-Line, Inc., No. 13-1054 (7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, August 7, 2013).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling work injuries, business litigation and work-related disputed for individuals, families and businesses for more than 37 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Deerfield, Northbrook, Wheeling, Vernon Hills, Wood Dale, Villa Park, Cicero, Joliet, Chicago (Lawndale), Chicago (Brighton Park), Chicago (South Shore), Chicago Ridge, Oak Forest, Hinsdale and Hickory Hills, Ill.

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