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Union Can Waive Employees’ Right to Sue for Discrimination

In a 5-4 decision issued today, the United States Supreme Court ruled in 14 Penn Plaza v. Pyett (U.S. Supreme Court, April 1, 2009) that a provision in a collective bargaining agreement that “clearly and unmistakably” waived an employee’s right to sue under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) was enforceable.

In its decision, the court noted that an agreement to arbitrate employment discrimination claims is a mandatory subject of bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) In addition, the court also noted the ADEA itself does not remove age discrimination claims from the NLRA’s broad sweep, and there is nothing in the law to suggest any type of distinction between arbitration agreements signed by an individual and those agreed by a union representative.

Therefore, where employees have a collective bargaining agreement that says arbitration is the “sole and exclusive remedy” for ADEA claims, the employees have waived their right to litigate those claims in court.