In a decision issued this morning, the Sixth Circuit held that an Ohio complaint alleging wrongful termination for discharging employees for unionizing activities was pre-empted by the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). Specifically, the court in Lewis v. Whirlpool Corporation upheld the dismissal of the case by the district court based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
The plaintiff argued that because he had been employed as a supervisor, he was not an employee covered by the NLRA. The court noted, however, that a supervisor has a viable claim under the NLRA when he is terminated or otherwise disciplined for refusing to commit unfair labor practices. In addition, it appears that Lewis filed a charge with the NLRB, but withdrew it when it became clear that an NLRB Field Examiner had concluded that his claim had no merit. Because Lewis’s claim under Ohio law was identical to the claim he could (and, in fact, did) bring before the NLRB, the Ohio law claim was pre-empted and subject to dismissal.
Although the court did not have to address the issue in light of its pre-emption finding, it seems that the availability of adequate remedies for Lewis under the National Labor Relations Act (had he been able to factually support his claims) would have resulted in dismissal of his Ohio wrongful termination claim in any event. Keep in mind, however, that on that front, we are still awaiting the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in Sutton v. Tomco Machining, Inc., which we expect will again address the scope of Ohio public policy wrongful termination law in the context of a workers’ compensation retaliation claim.