Court Denies AT&T’s Motion to Dismiss Communications Workers of America’s Suit

On Friday Judge Michael L. Brown of the Northern District of Georgia issued an order and opinion denying AT&T’s motion to dismiss plaintiff Communications Workers of America’s suit, which arose out of AT&T’s refusal “to arbitrate a dispute in violation of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement ”

Specifically, the court stated that in February 2018 that parties signed an agreement under which AT&T recognized the plaintiff as “‘the sole collective bargaining agent’ for a subset of Defendant’s employees (identified by their job titles) in the Southeastern region of the United States”; the agreement recognized specific exclusions and requirements. However, the court said, in July 2019, the Communications Workers of America “initiated an Executive Level Grievance claiming Defendant violated Articles 2 and 17 by ‘1) diverting bargaining unit work outside of the bargaining unit and coverage of the Agreement; 2) violating the true intent and meaning of the ‘Outside Premise Sales Representative’ exclusion of Article 2, Section 1; and 3) failing to comply with the Article 2, Section 2 process regarding [four specific] newly created job classifications.”

The court recounted that AT&T denied the plaintiff’s grievances stating that the “new job titles count as ‘Outside Premise Sale Representatives’ that are excluded from the Bargaining Unit under Article 2 of the Agreement”; afterward, the plaintiff sent AT&T a request to arbitrate. AT&T objected and stated that the NLRB had jurisdiction. The plaintiff sued AT&T for breaching the agreement and refusing to arbitrate the grievance. AT&T moved to dismiss the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, or in the alternative, for failure to state a claim.

AT&T argued that the case “involves ‘representational’ issues reserved to the National Labor Relations Board (‘NLRB’) under the National Labor Relations Act (‘NLRA’).” The Communications Workers of America contended that the suit “involves ‘contractual’ issues over which the Court has jurisdiction under the Labor Management Relations Act (‘LMRA’).” The court agreed with the CWA, finding that it has subject matter jurisdiction because the “Plaintiff is not asking the Court to resolve the underlying grievance; it is asking the Court to let an arbitrator do so”; thus, the court does not need to “decide any representational issues in order to rule on that request.” As a result, the court found the suit a contract issue not a representation issue, so it has jurisdiction.

The court also rejected AT&T’s argument that CWA failed to stated a claim . In particular, the court found that the arbitration provision covers any “controversy…regarding the true intent and meaning of any provision of this Agreement.” The court stated that the plaintiff’s grievance claims raise a dispute about “the ‘meaning’ of a specific phrase in the Agreement,” so it can be arbitrated.

AT&T is represented by Littler Mendelson. Communications Workers of America is represented by its own counsel.