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University of Chicago v. Faculty Association of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools

October 28, 2010

THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FACULTY ASSOCIATION OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO LABORATORY SCHOOLS, LOCAL 2063, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Feinerman

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff The University of Chicago filed this action against Defendant Faculty Association of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, Local 2063, American Federation of Teachers, alleging that the non-renewal of Mark Dreessen's teaching contract is not arbitrable under the parties' Collective Bargaining Agreements ("CBA"). The University has moved to stay arbitration proceedings pending the outcome of this action. The motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

In December 2009, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools informed Dreessen, a member of a bargaining unit represented by the Faculty Association, that his teaching contract would not be renewed. Dreessen and the Faculty Association responded with written grievances claiming that the non-renewal, as well as certain events preceding the non-renewal, violated the CBAs. The University replied that Dreessen's non-renewal was not subject to the CBAs' grievance-arbitration provisions. In June 2010, after a Committee of the Laboratory Schools' Board of Trustees declined to reverse Dreessen's non-renewal, the Faculty Association submitted two arbitration demands to the American Arbitration Association ("AAA") on behalf of Dreessen. The University and the Faculty Association have since engaged in the process of selecting arbitrators and hearing dates, with the University doing so under protest and without waiving its rights to challenge the dispute's arbitrability. Hearing dates have been set for January 24-25, 2011.

The University filed this lawsuit on August 2, 2010. Invoking Section 301 of the Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185, the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq., and the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201 et seq., the University seeks a permanent stay of arbitration proceedings and a declaration that the dispute is not arbitrable under the CBAs. The day after filing suit, the University moved to stay the arbitration proceedings pending the this Court's determination of arbitrability. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for resolution.

DISCUSSION

The University's stay motion faces two insurmountable hurdles: the jurisdictional bar posed by the Norris-LaGuardia Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 101-115, and the University's failure to show irreparable harm from the denial of a stay. Both hurdles are plainly set forth in AT&T Broadband, LLC v. Int'l Bhd. of Elec. Workers, 317 F.3d 758 (7th Cir. 2003).

A. The Norris-LaGuardia Act

As in this case, the employer in AT&T Broadband brought suit to halt arbitration proceedings commenced by a union, and the union responded that injunctive relief was barred by Section 1 of Norris-LaGuardia, which provides that "[n]o court of the United States. shall have jurisdiction to issue any restraining order or temporary or permanent injunction in a case involving or growing out of a labor dispute, except in a strict conformity with the provisions of this chapter." 29 U.S.C. § 101. The Seventh Circuit agreed with the union, reasoning that because "arbitration of a labor dispute is a matter 'involving or growing out of a labor dispute,'" Norris-LaGuardia jurisdictionally barred the employer's request to halt the arbitration. AT&T Broadband, 317 F.3d at 759-60 (citing cases); accord, e.g., Triangle Constr. & Maint. Corp. v. Our Virgin Islands Labor Union, 425 F.3d 938 (11th Cir. 2005). The University advances three reasons why AT&T Broadband does not bar a stay in this case. None has merit.

First, the University contends that Granite Rock Co. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 130 S.Ct. 2847 (2010), Rent-A-Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson, 130 S.Ct. 2772 (2010), and Preston v. Ferrer, 552 U.S. 346 (2008), undermine AT&T Broadband by reiterating the cardinal principle that, absent a contrary agreement, arbitrability is a question for the court, not the arbitrator. That principle, the University maintains, requires the court to stay arbitration until it renders a decision on arbitrability.

The University's submission ignores the fact that the principle upon which it relies-that courts must decide arbitrability-prevailed with equal force in 2003, when AT&T Broadband was decided. Citing AT&T Technologies, Inc. v. Communications Workers of Am., 475 U.S. 643 (1986), the Seventh Circuit recognized "that, unless the parties agree otherwise, arbitrability is a question for a judge to decide." AT&T Broadband, 317 F.3d at 761. Like the University here, the employer in AT&T Broadband argued that the "court decides arbitrability" principle can have force only if coupled with the court's ability to stay arbitrations pending a judicial decision on arbitrability. The Seventh Circuit flatly rejected that argument:

The linchpin of AT&T's argument is that if the employer has a substantive right (here, to a judicial determination about arbitrability) then there must be a remedy by way of injunction. It would be only a small step to plug in other substantive rights. Suppose the employer has a substantive right to be free of secondary boycotts. If AT&T's syllogism is appropriate, then courts must have the authority to enforce this right by issuing injunctions. Bye, bye, Norris-LaGuardia Act, for this was the very way in which courts evaded § 20 of the Clayton Act! Yet in Burlington Northern [R.R. v. Maintenance of Way Employees, 481 U.S. 429 (1987),] the Supreme Court unanimously held that the Norris-LaGuardia Act forbids injunctive relief against a secondary boycott, despite the fact that the boycott violated the employer's substantive rights.

What Congress established through the Norris-LaGuardia Act is that a substantive right does not ...


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