On February 5, 2015, the New Jersey Supreme Court granted certification in a whistleblower suit to determine whether federal law preempts the plaintiff’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act claims because the dispute requires interpretation of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”).
In Puglia v. Elk Pipeline Inc., (Case No. 075171), plaintiff Salvatore Puglia alleged that he was laid off from Elk Pipeline’s sewer reconstruction project in Camden in retaliation for complaining to company supervisors and management that Elk had improperly lowered his hourly rate below the prevailing wage he was owed.
Puglia argued unsuccessfully before a New Jersey appeals court that because he had seniority, he should not have been laid off when Elk cut its workforce as the project neared completion. On October 10, 2014, the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division ruled that Puglia’s claim was preempted by Section 103 of the Labor Management Relations Act and the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).
“By maintaining he was wrongly laid off and should have continued working because he had seniority, plaintiff inherently invokes interpretation of the CBA,” the Court said. “Thus, preemption applies.”
In addition, the appeals court found that Puglia’s complaint triggered preemption under a 1959 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236 (1959), in which the high court determined that state courts must yield jurisdiction to activities that are protected as part of Section 7 of the NLRA or constitute an unfair labor practice under Section 8 of the NLRA.
“The claim does not stand alone and is not unrelated to the CBA,” the Court said. “Rather, it is grounded on a violation of plaintiff’s seniority status, as defined in the CBA, a negotiated provision governing his employment, and thus, invoked provisions of the NLRA, requiring administrative review by the [National Labor Relations Board].”
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