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Schreiner v. U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

June 12, 2018




         After U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. (“USST”) terminated Plaintiffs Christopher A. Schreiner, Michael A. Schreiner, and Mark Cortino from their jobs at USST's factory, Plaintiffs filed this case against USST, Altria Group, Inc. (“Altria”), and Leslie Ward. They bring claims for breach of contract, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”). Defendants USST and Ward (collectively, “Defendants”) have moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).[1] Because all of Plaintiffs' claims require interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement between USST and Plaintiffs' union, § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”) preempts Plaintiffs' claims, warranting dismissal of the complaint.


         Altria produces and markets tobacco, cigarettes, and other related products. It acquired USST, a smokeless tobacco manufacturer, in January 2009. On October 27, 2016, Altria announced that it would close two of its manufacturing facilities by 2018. The closings included USST's factory in Franklin Park, Illinois, which employed approximately 300 individuals. Although Altria did not specify how many employees would lose their jobs, it indicated that employees would be offered the opportunity to relocate to other facilities. Following the announcement of the Franklin Park factory closure, USST installed additional security cameras in the factory.

         Plaintiffs all worked at USST's Franklin Park factory. The Schreiners had worked there since May 24, 2013 as production mechanics. Cortino worked there since January 7, 2015. Plaintiffs worked the third shift, with the option to work four hours early or stay four hours late. They are parties to a collective bargaining agreement between SEIU Local #1 (the “Union”) and USST (the “CBA”).[3] The CBA sets forth certain rights and responsibilities of USST and its employees, provides USST with management rights, and requires the parties to pursue a specified process for any grievances that arise between them.

         On January 27, 2017, a production supervisor informed employees at the Franklin Park factory that something had gone wrong with the video jets. The following day, around 11:00 p.m., Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) representatives called Plaintiffs for individual questioning. Ward, USST's manager of employee relations at the Franklin Park factory, Ed M., the head of maintenance, and Charles B., a union steward, also attended the questioning, which focused on Plaintiffs' whereabouts on December 21, 2016. Plaintiffs learned that the investigation extended beyond the video jets, but they did not receive additional specific information.

         On January 30, 2017 at approximately 6:30 a.m., Michelle Allen called a plantwide meeting to discuss non-product related material (“NPRM”) found in product produced at the Franklin Park plant. Several days later, on February 2, 2017, Eddy, a supervisor, told Plaintiffs to sit in the public cafeteria between 7:00 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. to await further questioning. While Plaintiffs waited, other employees gave Plaintiffs looks of disgust and teased them. One employee referred to the table where Plaintiffs sat as the “criminal table.” Doc. 1-2 ¶ 37. Eventually, Plaintiffs moved to a smaller cafeteria to await questioning. During individual questioning, Plaintiffs learned they each were accused of criminal activity regarding the NPRM. That same day, Allen held another plantwide meeting, announcing that USST was placing previously promised severance payments on hold until it resolved the NPRM issue. Allen also asked employees to come forward with information about any suspicious activity. Later that day, Ward and Dave Rogan individually advised Plaintiffs they were among four people of interest in the NPRM matter and that USST was suspending them without pay until further notice. Plaintiffs also received letters from USST, which Ward signed, to the same effect.

         Security then escorted Plaintiffs out of the building without letting them gather their personal belongings.

         On February 13, Ward called Plaintiffs and told them to appear for a meeting on February 14 at 11:00 a.m. to answer questions. She indicated the questions would be voluntary and that they could gather their belongings afterwards. Plaintiffs then contacted their Union and requested the presence of a union representative at the meeting, to which the Union agreed. But the union representatives were not allowed to attend the questioning, with USST taking the position that the matter had become a criminal one. During these meetings, Plaintiffs learned that USST drilled out the locks from Plaintiffs' toolboxes and searched their contents without having a union representative present. The Schreiners also received subpoenas for fingerprints from federal agents, complying on February 16.

         On February 28, at approximately 7:30 a.m., a SWAT team forced entry into Cortino's house, zip-tying Mark and his four children's hands behind their backs for approximately forty-five minutes. Eventually, Mark and his family left the house. The SWAT team searched the house for five hours. On March 1, a representative of the FDA, Mike Bush, went to the Schreiners' mother's house and advised her to talk sense into her children because he would “hate for ‘something terrible to happen if this was not resolved.'” Id. ¶ 77.

         On May 15, 2017, Plaintiffs received letters from USST indicating that USST had terminated their employment effective immediately. The letters also stated that Plaintiffs were ineligible for severance benefits and back wages for the period of their suspension. While suspended, Christopher sought but did not receive a job at Peacock Foods Greencore USA. USST told the hiring manager at Peacock Foods that Christopher was a primary suspect in the NPRM situation.


         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint, not its merits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts in the plaintiff's complaint and draws all reasonable inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor. AnchorBank, FSB v. Hofer, 649 F.3d 610, 614 (7th Cir. 2011). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must not only provide the defendant with fair notice of a claim's basis but must also be facially plausible. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009); see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). “A ...

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