California Supreme Court Rules Against SF Giants Arbitration

By George Khoury, Esq. on May 01, 2019

A recent case handed down by the California Supreme Court will hopefully allow seasonal employees of the SF Giants to have the merits of their case heard in the Superior Court ... eventually.

The decision explains that despite the collective bargaining agreement calling for disputes to be arbitrated, the particular issue in this case was a matter properly before the state courts.

What's This Case About?

While the state Supreme Court hasn't touched the actual merits of the Melendez v. San Francisco Baseball Associates case, they are rather fascinating.

The plaintiffs in the case are security guards for the SF Giants' home stadium. They are claiming a violation of California Labor Code section 201, because they are not immediately paid their wages at the end of the season, and after special event work. The plaintiffs claim that at the end of the season, and special events, they are, in effect, discharged from employment, thus triggering the requirement to paid immediately upon discharge. Their employer contends that the plaintiffs remain employed, and thus, can receive their wages in regularly-timed payroll checks (every 2 weeks).

Interpreting State Labor Code

The central issue that the California Supreme Court took up was whether section 301(a) of the National Labor Relations Act preempts the workers' case. That section, as the opinion explains, has been interpreted to preempt state law labor claims that are governed by collective bargaining agreements.

Notably though, the unanimous opinion further explains that when a court need not interpret a collective bargaining agreement, but rather only needs to look at, or apply it, that section 301 preemption may not apply. In this particular case, the court was tasked with interpreting how the state labor code defined "discharge" (as in discharged from employment). The Cal. Supreme Court held that the appellate court got it wrong when it ruled that the case should be arbitrated.

The unanimous panel remanded the case back to the trial court to resolve the state law interpretation issue, and proceed with the case.

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