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Steve Whitmore, On Behalf of Himself and Others Similarly Situated v. Kraft Foods Global

June 27, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Edmond E. Chang


Plaintiff Steven Whitmore alleges that his employer, Defendant Kraft Foods, owes him back pay for time spent donning and doffing protective gear as part of his employment. Whitmore filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court, alleging violations of the Illinois Minimum Wage Law and the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act. Kraft filed a notice of removal, R. 1,*fn1 arguing that because resolution of the claims requires interpreting a collective bargaining agreement, the state law claims are preempted. Whitmore moved to remand to state court, R.13, but before deciding that motion, this Court*fn2 issued a stay until the resolution of a Seventh Circuit case regarding a similar dispute. The stay was lifted after the Seventh Circuit issued its opinion in Spoerle v. Kraft, 614 F.3d 427 (7th Cir. 2010). After reviewing Spoerle and other statutory, regulatory, and case law, the Court grants Plaintiff's motion to remand.


Plaintiff Steven Whitmore is an employee of Defendant Kraft Foods. R. 6, Exh. 1 ¶ 5. He works in Kraft's Chicago plant on South Kedzie. Id. ¶¶ 4-5. At the beginning of his work day, Whitmore is required to put on protective equipment, including: "safety footwear, white frocks, hairnets, earplugs, hardhats, bump hats and protective aprons." Id. ¶ 7. After donning these items, he walks over to his work location. Id. ¶ 9. At the end of the work day, Whitmore returns to where the equipment was donned. See id. ¶ 10. There, he removes all of the protective equipment. Id. Kraft does not pay Whitmore for any of these activities. Id. ¶ 11.

Whitmore's employment is governed by a collective bargaining agreement. R. 24, at 4. The agreement lays out the conditions of employment, including how work hours are calculated. R. 24, Exh. A. There is a specific provision that states that "time spent in changing clothes, washing and engaging in any other non-productive activities at the beginning or end of each workday" will not be compensated. R. 24 at 4-5, R. 24, Exh. A (CBA, Article 14).

In January 2010, Whitmore filed suit in Cook County. R. 6. Specifically, he sought compensation for the time spent donning and doffing protective equipment. Id. In his two-count complaint, Whitmore alleges violations of (1) the Illinois Minimum Wage Act, 820 ILCS 105/1, et seq, and (2) the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, 820 ILCS 115/1, et seq. Id.

In April 2010, Kraft removed the case to federal court. R. 1. Whitmore promptly filed a motion to remand to state court. R. 13. Kraft responded by filing a motion to stay, requesting that the Court wait for the Seventh Circuit to decide a case involving similar issues. R. 9. The Court granted the stay and denied the motion to remand without prejudice. R.15. On August 2, 2010, the Seventh Circuit issued its decision in Spoerle v. Kraft Foods, 614 F.3d 427 (7th Cir. 2010). The stay was lifted, R.17, and Whitmore filed a renewed motion to remand that included a discussion of Spoerle.

R.21. That motion is now fully briefed before this Court.


Removal is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1441, which provides, in pertinent part, that "any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district . . . embracing the place where such action is pending." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). "Only state-court actions that originally could have been filed in federal court may be removed to federal court." Caterpillar v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). "The party seeking removal has the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction, and federal courts should interpret the removal statute narrowly, resolving any doubt in favor of the plaintiff's choice of forum in state court." Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Ctrs., 577 F.3d 752, 758 (7th Cir.2009) (citing Doe v. Allied-Signal, Inc., 985 F.2d 908, 911 (7th Cir.1993)).

In general, district courts have "original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The usual test for federal question jurisdiction under § 1331 is the "well pleaded complaint rule," which requires federal courts to look only at the complaint itself "to determine if the case arises under federal law." Vorhees v. Naper Aero Club, Inc., 272 F.3d 398, 402 (7th Cir. 2001)). In addition, "[c]omplete preemption 'confers exclusive federal jurisdiction in certain instances where Congress intended the scope of a federal law to be so broad as to entirely replace any state-law claim.'" Nelson v. Welch (In re Repository Techs.), 601 F.3d 710, 722(7th Cir.2010) (citing Franciscan Skemp Healthcare, Inc. v. Cent. States Joint Bd. Health & Welfare Trust Fund, 538 F.3d 594, 596 (7th Cir. 2008)). "Under this jurisdictional doctrine, certain federal statutes have such 'extraordinary pre-emptive power' that they 'convert [ ] an ordinary state common law complaint into one stating a federal claim.'" Id. (citing Franciscan Skemp Healthcare, Inc., 538 F.3d at 596; Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 209 (2004)). "Complete preemption, therefore, creates an exception to the rule that courts look only to the plaintiff's well-pleaded complaint to determine whether federal jurisdiction exists. If the complaint pleads a state-law claim that is completely preempted by federal law, the claim is removable to federal court." Id. (citing Franciscan Skemp Healthcare, Inc., 538 F.3d at 596-97.)

Federal preemption of disputes over collective bargaining agreements (CBA) was intended to "authorize[] federal courts to fashion a body of federal law for [their] enforcement."*fn3 Textile Workers v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, 451 (1957). The Court explained the reason why uniformity of interpretation was important in Teamsters v. Lucas Flour, 369 U.S. 95 (1962). "The possibility that individual contract terms might have different meanings under state and federal law would inevitably exert a disruptive influence upon both the negotiation and administration of collective agreements." Id. at 103. Congress was concerned that disputes based on CBAs would be unpredictable if parties were unsure about what substantive laws would govern their interpretation. As a result, Congress included § 301 in the Labor Management Relations Act, which states:

Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce as defined in this chapter, or between any such labor organizations, may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties. 29 U.S.C. § 185. Preemption is triggered when a claim is "founded directly on rights created by collective bargaining agreements," Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 394 (1987), and when the resolution of a state law claim "depends on the meaning of, or requires the interpretation of, a collective bargaining agreement." Loewen, 65 F.3d at 1421 (citing Lingle, 486 U.S. at 405-06). Put another way, a claim is preempted if it is "substantially dependent on an analysis of the terms of the collective bargaining agreement." Atchley v. Heritage Cable Vision Assocs., 101 F.3d 495, 499 (7th Cir.1996). Put still another way, § 301 has preemptive effect if the meaning of a contract term is at the heart of the dispute. Livadas, 512 U.S. at 124; Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 394.

But merely because uniform interpretation is desirable does not mean that federal preemption applies whenever a CBA is involved. Not every dispute that tangentially involves a provision of a collective bargaining agreement is preempted. Allis-Chalmers, 471 U.S. at 211. "[I]t would be inconsistent with congressional intent under [§301] to pre-empt state rules that proscribe conduct, or establish rights and obligations, independent of a labor contract." Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 395 (citing Allis-Chalmers Corp v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202, 212 (1985)). Preemption will not occur if a dispute merely requires reference to, or consultation of, an agreement. Livadas v. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 124 (1994); In re Bentz Metal Prods. ...

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