An Ohio court of appeals recently determined that a union contract may bar public employees from bringing intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) claims against their employers. In Marzano v. Struthers City School District Board of Education, the applicable CBA stated that all disagreements about work situations and concerns about possible violations of the agreement regarding working conditions would be resolved through a grievance procedure. A public employee covered by the CBA filed an IIED claim in court against her employer. The lawsuit was dismissed.
The court explained that Ohio law provides that if a CBA contains grievance procedures, these procedures are the exclusive remedy for violations of a public employee’s employment rights. Thus, a public employee cannot bring an IIED claim against an employer in the state courts if the facts underlying the claim fall within the scope of the CBA. The facts underlying the employee’s IIED claim boiled down to a disagreement about working conditions and/or a concern that the CBA’s terms concerning working conditions had been violated — topics that fell within the scope of the CBA. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal.
Two other appellate courts in Ohio have similarly decided that a CBA may bar public employees from bringing IIED claims against their employers if the underlying facts fall within the union contract. Of course, we will need to see if the Ohio Supreme Court will accept this take on CBAs. In the meantime, labor professionals, particularly those in the public sector, who encounter an IIED claim in Ohio state courts should first check to see if the facts alleged by the employee fall within the scope of the CBA.