Because most church lawsuits seem to arise in “at will” or “right to work” employment law states, there are few instances in which collective bargaining agreements have been material or pivotal in reported court rulings.  There are several lessons, however, to be gleaned from the court decisions available that considered collective bargaining agreements.  Foremost may be the limitations on the statutes governing collective bargaining agreements.

In Jusino v Federation of Catholic Teachers, Slip Op. (2nd Cir. 2022), the Plaintiff was allegedly terminated after engaging, willfully or involuntarily, in disputes with parents, student, and the public about a lecture Plaintiff gave regarding racism as sin.  Plaintiff was a teacher in a Catholic High School.  The Plaintiff in a prior separate lawsuit sued the employing parochial school and a settlement was reached.  Afterwards, Plaintiff sued the union that sought employment arbitration on his behalf.  Plaintiff alleged the union failed to allege violations by the employer of federal civil rights employment statutes.  The opinion does not reveal why the union refused to present those claims but was willing to press others.  The federal trial court, affirmed by the federal court of appeals for the 2nd Circuit, based dismissal on the conclusion that the National Labor Relations Act, as amended by the Labor Management Relations Act, were inapplicable to disputes between parochial-school teachers and the union.  Both federal courts relied upon NLRB v Catholic Bishop of Chicago, 440 US 490 (1979), in which the United States Supreme Court held the statutes did not bring teachers in church – operated schools within the statutory coverage.  Therefore, the Plaintiff could state no claim for relief against the union supported by those statutes because they did not apply.

Arguably, some or all of the federal statutes the Plaintiff demanded be the subject of arbitration brought by the union also exempted religious entities.  In any event, counsel should generally confirm that statutory language creates an actionable claim.

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