The Ohio Supreme Court held that the arbitration provision in a 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 serious injury to his right hand while attempting to repair a malfunctioning milling machine. The accident resulted in the loss of four fingers, according to the report Sinley v. Safety Controls Technology Inc.submitted Nov 23
Mr. Sinley sued his employer, along with other parties, alleging that Superior had removed the electronic safety mechanism on the mill that would have shut off its power when it was disassembled, alleging that he was not warned by his supervisor that certain safety procedures had not been implemented on the machine, and he claimed 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. .
Superior argued that as a member of the union, Mr. Sinley had agreed to use the grievance and arbitration process set forth in the agreement as the sole and exclusive means of resolving any alleged violations of employment law or statute.
A trial judge denied Superior’s motion to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration, without opinion. The Court of Appeals for the 8th District of Ohio affirmed that the CBA must contain a “clear and unmistakable” exception to bar a union member’s statutory claim against an employer in a judicial forum, and such language was absent.
The Ohio Supreme Court agreed, explaining that while arbitration is generally favored in most contracts, there is no presumption of arbitrability for an employee’s claim under an arbitration clause in a collective bargaining agreement.
The court also said that Mr. Sinley’s intentional tort claim does not fall within the scope of the arbitration provision of the CBA because it “is silent on intentional torts by the employer, and we cannot conclude that the parties intended to include such claims in a general “no limitation” clause.”
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