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Leslie Ann Chissie v. Winco Foods

February 13, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge


Through the present lawsuit, Plaintiff Leslie Ann Chissie ("Plaintiff") seeks damages for disciplinary actions taken against her by her former employer, Defendant WinCo Foods, LLC ("WinCo"). Plaintiff's action, initially filed in state court, was removed to this Court on grounds that the state law claims it contained were preempted by Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, 29 U.S.C. § 185 ("LMRA") and that federal jurisdiction was accordingly conferred by the LMRA.

WinCo, along with Plaintiff's individually named supervisor, Defendant Joel Clark, now move for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's complaint, or alternatively for summary adjudication as to discrete claims asserted within that Complaint. Defendants allege, inter alia, that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to Plaintiff's state law claims because of LMRA preemption. As set forth below, because this Court finds that Plaintiff's state law claims are indeed preempted, summary judgment will be granted on that basis.*fn1


In mid-2008, Plaintiff, who had been the Bakery Manager for WinCo's Yuba City, California, store since April of 1997, was accused by a co-worker of making offensive and discriminatory remarks. Plaintiff was heard stating in the store's breakroom that she wanted to leave California to get away from "gays and blacks." Plaintiff also allegedly referred to a co-worker's same sex marriage as "fucking nasty." Particularly in view of Plaintiff's management status, an investigation into her conduct ensued. Plaintiff and others were interviewed.

According to Defendants, Plaintiff initially denied making the claimed statements. She then conceded to having commented, after reading a newspaper in the breakroom, that the state was "messed up" and that she someday wanted to retire outside the state. She denied making any specific comments about same sex marriages or about race.

During a second interview with both the Store Manager, Defendant Clark, and Assistant Store Manager Denise Bailey, Plaintiff continued to deny the comments attributed to her. Once the investigation was complete, WinCO determined that Plaintiff had been forthcoming about her conduct.

Plaintiff was a member of the Department Hourly Manager Employee Association ("DMHEA"). DMHEA and WinCo negotiated and entered into a Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") which set forth the terms of Plaintiff's employment with WinCo. (WinCo's Undisputed Fact ("UF") No. 3.) The CBA provides that employees can be immediately terminated for gross misconduct as defined by WinCo's Company Personnel Policies. (Id. at No. 4.) Dishonesty and violations of WinCo's Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy are both cited in the Company Personnel Policies as examples of gross misconduct that may result in immediate discharge. (Id. at Nos. 5-6.) Plaintiff signed a copy of the Personnel Policies and understood that she could be terminated for such violations. (Id. at Nos. 7 and 8.) On September 17, 2008, Plaintiff was terminated by Winco pursuant to the CBA for dishonesty and for having violated WinCo's Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy.

She was not paid vacation pay at that time because the CBA provided that no such benefits were available in the event of gross misconduct. (Id. at No. 18.)

Plaintiff grieved her initial termination to the DHMEA grievance committee, which upheld WinCo's termination decision. Thereafter, as a result of a second appeal to the Hourly Employee Association ("HEA") grievance committee, that committee decided to reinstate Plaintiff, but deemed her time off between termination and reinstatement to be an unpaid suspension. Although the HEA grievance committee initially determined that Plaintiff should be reinstated to her former position as Bakery Manager, during a subsequent November 1, 2008, meeting with Defendant Clark and the Assistant Store Manager (Denise Bailey), Plaintiff was informed that WinCo had in fact decided to demote Plaintiff from Bakery Manager to a cashier. Decl. of Joel Clark, ¶ 10.*fn2 According to WinCo, pursuant to established company policy managers who receive suspensions are subject to demotion. See Dep. of Ben Swanson, 91:4-16; 96:22-97:21, pertinent portions of which are attached as Ex. B to the Decl. of Jasmine L. Anderson.

Although Plaintiff appears to dispute that practice by way of opposition to this motion, in her deposition she appears to concede that WinCo had the right to demote employees under the CBA. Pl.'s Dep., 242:10-20, Ex. A to the Anderson Decl.

Despite being told by Defendant Clark to report to work as a cashier the day following the above-described meeting, Plaintiff failed to do so and called in sick for her scheduled shift. This was consistent with her statement to Defendant Clark the day beforehand that she would decline to report for the cashiering shift. Clark thereafter wrote Plaintiff and asked her to provide medical documentation as to her illness by November 7, 2008, or be considered a voluntary quit. See Decl. Of Joel Clark, ¶ 10, and certified letter to Plaintiff dated November 4, 2008, attached as Ex. 4 thereto. On November 12, 2008, five days after the deadline to provide the requested medical documentation had passed, Plaintiff was deemed a voluntary quit.

Plaintiff filed the present lawsuit approximately nine months later, on August 18, 2009, in the Superior Court of the State of California in and for the County of Sutter. Defendants timely removed the matter to this Court on October 20, 2009 on grounds that Plaintiff's state law claims contained therein in fact were subject to Section 301 of the LMRA, therefore vesting jurisdiction in federal court. Plaintiff thereafter moved to remand her suit back to state court, in part on grounds that the LMRA did not apply because no interpretation of the CBA was needed to decide the issues presented by the case.

In opposition, Defendants disagreed, arguing that Plaintiff's claims were in fact preempted by the LMRA because they could not be resolved without interpreting the terms of the CBA.

This Court denied Plaintiff's Motion to Remand by Memorandum and Order filed February 12, 2010, finding that it did have jurisdiction because "Plaintiff's state law claims are preempted by the LMRA..." ECF No. 20, pp. 11-12. As the Court explained, it "will undoubtedly need to interpret and construe the CBA to ascertain the parties' expectations both in terms of the conditions of employment and the nature and extent of any necessary discipline." Id. at 7:16-20.

By way of the motions for summary judgment presently before the Court, Defendants now seek dismissal of Plaintiff's state law claims in their entirety as preempted, an action which the Court's previous Memorandum and Order largely determined, at least in broad conceptual terms, already. The instant motion asks the Court to apply LMRA preemption analysis to each of Plaintiff's ten state law causes of action. Moreover, in addition to arguing preemption, Defendants alternatively seek summary adjudication on ...

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