Westlaw Topical Highlights: Labor and Employment, January 28, 2014

January 28, 2015

Labor and EmploymentTopical Highlights for Labor and Employment provides summaries of significant federal and state judicial decisions and legislative and administrative activities affecting labor and employment law. A Westlaw subscription is required to access the documents linked from this page.

Collective Bargaining: Collective bargaining agreements with general durational clauses are not presumed to vest retiree health benefits—Supreme Court Decision  M & G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett, 2015 WL 303218 (U.S.) In a unanimous decision.  the United States Supreme Court has abrogated the Sixth Circuit’s so-called Yard-Man presumption that a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with a general durational clause is intended to vest retiree health benefits beyond the duration of the CBA. See International Union, United Auto., Aerospace, and Agr. Implement Workers of America (UAW) v. Yard–Man, Inc., 716 F.2d 1476 (C.A.6–Mich. 1983).

In the case at bar, the Sixth Circuit, applying its Yard-Man presumption, reversed the district court’s dismissal of retirees’ claims that a CBA, which contained a general durational clause, had created a vested right to lifetime contribution-free health care benefits for retirees, their surviving spouses, and their dependents.

Writing for the Court, Justice Thomas said the Yard-Man presumption violates ordinary contract principles by placing a thumb on the scale in favor of vested retiree health benefits in all collective bargaining agreements, distorting the attempt to ascertain the intention of the parties, and instead applying a presumption of the likely behavior of parties during collective bargaining. This assessment of likely behavior had not been based on record evidence in the Yard-Man case, and it was too speculative and too far removed from the context of any particular contract to be useful in discerning the parties’ intent.

According to Justice Thomas, the Sixth Circuit had extended Yard-Man‘s statement, that context considerations outweigh the effect of a general termination clause, to the conclusion that, absent specific durational language referring to retiree benefits, a general durational clause “says nothing” about the vesting of retiree benefits.

Justice Ginsburg, in a concurring opinion in which Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined, stated that contrary to the position asserted in the employer’s brief, no rule required clear and express language in order to show that parties intended health care benefits to vest. Rather, constraints on an employer after the expiration of a CBA could arise from implied terms of the expired CBA. (Vacating and remanding Tackett v. M & G Polymers USA, LLC, 733 F.3d 589 (C.A.6–Ohio 2013).) 2015 WL 303218. (The full-text of the rest of the Topical Highlights is available within Westlaw Next, subscription required).

Unions: Labor Relations Board had exclusive original jurisdiction over dispute regarding appointment of a neutral arbitrator.  State v. Nakanelua 2015 WL 260712 (Hawai’i)

Unemployment Compensation: Claimant was not disqualified from receiving unemployment by quitting part-time job after being terminated from full-time job.  Frazier v. Board of Review, Dept. of Labor 2015 WL 264037 (N.J.Super.A.D.)

Discrimination: Black screenwriter failed to allege talent agencies’ awareness of his race.  Samuels v. William Morris Agency 2014 WL 6886526 (N.Y.A.D. 1 Dept.)

Public Employment: Statute defining “earnable compensation” for purposes of state employee pension plan did not create contractual right to fixed definition of the term.  American Federation of Teachers v. State 2015 WL 222181 (N.H.)

Benefit Plans: Retiree’s action to compel former spouse to hold survivor annuity benefits in constructive trust for current spouse was preempted by ERISA.  Vanderkam v. Vanderkam 2015 WL 233686 (C.A.D.C.)

Workers’ Compensation: “Value,” for purposes of triggering secondary workers’ compensation liability, included any ancillary consideration in goods or services.  Young v. Hood’s Gardens, Inc. 2015 WL 292519 (Ind.)

Migrant Workers: Testimony of nanny did not establish intentional abuse as required element for violation of force labor statute.  Garnica v. Edwards 2014 WL 7180395 (S.D.N.Y.)