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Union agreement doesn’t require worker to arbitrate suit: Ohio high court


The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the arbitration provision of a labor union’s collective bargaining agreement did not bar an injured member from pursuing an intentional tort claim against his employer.

Steven Sinley worked in the maintenance department for Superior Dairy Inc. In 2019, he suffered a severe injury to his right hand while attempting to repair a malfunctioning grinder machine. The accident resulted in the loss of four fingers, according to Sinley v. Safety Controls Technology Inc., filed Nov. 23.

Mr. Sinley sued his employer, along with other parties, claiming that Superior had removed the electronic safety mechanism on the grinder that would have shut off its power whenever it was disassembled and alleged that he was not warned by his supervisor that certain safety procedures had not been implemented on the machine, and he alleged that his supervisor “intentionally and without warning activated the machine” while he was working on it.

Superior responded that its maintenance employees are members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America Local No. 92. The union had a collective bargaining agreement in place at the time of Mr. Sinley’s injury requiring arbitration of grievances against Superior.

Superior argued that as a member of the union, Mr. Sinley had agreed to use the grievance and arbitration procedure set forth in the agreement as the sole and exclusive means of settling any alleged violation of any employment-related law or statute.

A trial judge denied Superior’s motion to stay proceedings and compel arbitration, without opinion. The Court of Appeals for the 8th District of Ohio affirmed, finding the CBA had to contain a “clear and unmistakable” waiver to bar a union member’s statutory claim against an employer in a judicial forum, and such language was lacking.

The Ohio Supreme Court agreed, explaining that arbitration is generally favored in most contracts, but there is no presumption of arbitrability of an employee’s claims under an arbitration clause in a collective bargaining agreement.

The court also said Mr. Sinley’s intentional tort claim did not fall within the scope of the arbitration provision in the CBA as it “is silent as to intentional torts by the employer, and we cannot infer that the parties intended to include such claims in a general ‘without limitation’ clause.”

WorkCompCentral is a sister publication of Business Insurance. More stories here.