Preempted Wrongful Discharge Claim In California
In Screen Extras Guild, Inc. v. Superior Court (1990) 51 Cal. 3d 1017, the plaintiff asserted a cause of action for wrongful discharge in breach of an employment contract, defamation, and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
After concluding the wrongful discharge claim was preempted, the Screen court concluded that the remaining causes of action were also preempted because they were simply the "wrongful termination claim in other garb.
The facts Smith alleged to underlie these causes of action are essentially the same as those which underlie her action for wrongful discharge (i.e., the fact and circumstances of her discharge). Smith alleges no significant additional tortious activity . . . ." Screen Extras Guild, Inc. v. Superior Court, supra, 51 Cal. 3d at page 1032.
But the Screen court added in a footnote that the remaining causes of action are not necessarily, in all instances, automatically preempted along with wrongful discharge claims. Screen Extras Guild, Inc. v. Superior Court, supra, 51 Cal. 3d at page 1032, footnote 12.
The Screen court stated that "We look to the substance of the claim, not its characterization, to determine whether an action is preempted by federal labor law.
Because Smith's claimed damages for infliction of emotional distress and from defamation all flow from her allegedly wrongful dismissal, these causes of action are barred by the LMRDA for the same reasons that her cause of action for wrongful discharge is barred." Screen Extras Guild, Inc. v. Superior Court, supra, 51 Cal. 3d at page 1032.
The Screen court acknowledged that "our holding has the inevitable consequence of denying to Smith, and to other potential plaintiffs in similar circumstances, a remedy which is otherwise available to some classes of employees in this state.
However, in enacting the LMRDA, 'Congress simply was not concerned with perpetuating appointed union employees in office at the expense of an elected president's freedom to choose his own staff.' Citation. We are thus compelled to recognize that 'the wide scope of federal regulation of labor unions' " does not allow application of California wrongful discharge law to union employees. Screen Extras Guild, Inc. v. Superior Court, supra, 51 Cal. 3d at pages 1032-1033.
In Screen Extras Guild, Inc. v. Superior Court (1990) the Court explained that the LMRDA "mandates that labor unions be democratically governed. Democratic union governance dictates that elected union officials be responsive to the will of their union membership-electorate.
To effectuate this policy, elected union officials have the authority to discharge union employees in management or policymaking positions who do not, in their opinion, serve the union membership properly.
Permitting former union employees who held management or policymaking positions to bring state actions against the unions which employed them, or against the officials of such unions, premised on their discharge, would undermine the ability of elected union leaders to effectuate the will and policies of the union membership they represent.
Thus, the strong federal policy favoring union democracy, embodied in the LMRDA, preempts state causes of action for wrongful discharge or related torts when brought against a union-employer by its former management or policymaking employee."
In Screen the court held that the union business agent's wrongful termination cause of action for breach of the good faith covenant was preempted by the LMRDA because the union had unfettered discretion to terminate management and policymaking employees.
It was undisputed in Screen that the plaintiff was considered a management employee. Screen Extras Guild, Inc. v. Superior Court, supra, 51 Cal. 3d at page 1021.