Quaker Oats Manufacturing LLC argued in a complaint it filed in the Central District of Illinois on Monday that the company should not be required to rehire an employee who was fired for making purportedly racist comments about former President Barack Obama.
The complaint was filed against Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers International Union, Local Union #347-G, which the former Quaker Oats employee was a member of. The plaintiff asked the court to vacate the arbitration decision and award granted by the union, based on the terms of the “collective bargaining agreement” between the parties.
Monday’s complaint claimed that the arbitrator “exceeded his authority” and usurped the authority of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) when ordering that the employee should be reinstated to his job without a penalty. Quaker Oats purported that the court has jurisdiction over the matter because it arises under the National Labor Relations Act.
According to the plaintiff, the employee was discharged for “violating the Company’s prohibitions against racial discrimination, among other related EEO violations.” Reportedly, the agreement between the company and the union has a prohibition against racial discrimination.
The company, in response to a grievance filed on behalf of the employee by the union, explained in June 2020 that the employee “was heard by witnesses making a comment about ‘hanging Obama from a tree.’ These comments were taken offensively by two employees in the room. Later, (the employee) commented on his beliefs about Muslims and the need for Obama to be executed.” The company alleged that this action went against the anti-harassment and discrimination policies, as well as plant rules and the code of conduct.
The defendant filed a NLRB charge against the company for purportedly “denying Grievant’s Weingarten Rights during an investigatory interview.” Quaker Oats, however, denied that the former employee asserted these rights. The NLRB deferred the final decision in the matter to an arbitrator, and the parties held an arbitration hearing. The Arbitrator then determined that the plaintiff could not fire the individual, ruling that it was a single comment and the company had violated the grievant’s Weingarten rights.
“Despite its finding that the Grievant had engaged in the very conduct giving rise to his discharge,” Quaker Oats said in the complaint, “the Award directed the Company to reinstate Grievant with full back pay meaning there was no suspension or even Last Chance warning/discipline issued.”
The plaintiff asked the court to vacate the arbitrator’s decision, explaining that arbitration should be limited to the agreement and would not consider Weingarten Rights obligations. The company alleged that the arbitrator did not consider the “several racist comments” in the employee’s investigatory interview, because it “inappropriately” determined that the company had been unfair in regards to the employee’s Weingarten Rights.
Additionally, Quaker Oats argued that enforcing the arbitrator’s award would be a violation of law and public policy, and said that these questions should be determined by the court.
Quaker Oats is represented by Laner Muchin LTD.