MICHAEL PITEAU v. HARTFORD BOARD OF EDUCATION et al., SC 18351

Judicial District of Hartford

 

     Labor; Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies; Before Filing a "Hybrid Action" in the Superior Court Against Both an Employer and a Union, is an Employee Required to First Bring Those Claims Before the State Board of Labor Relations?  The plaintiff, Michael Piteau, worked for the building and grounds department of the Hartford board of education (board).  During the renovation of a high school, Piteau and Vincent Chesky, a custodian, took some scrap metal that was to be discarded and recycled it for profit.  After conducting an investigation, the board terminated Piteau's employment.  Piteau's union filed a grievance on his behalf, which was submitted to arbitration.  Thereafter, Chesky and the union's president signed a statement that was highly prejudicial to Piteau.  The union never advised Piteau about the existence of Chesky's statement and continued to represent Piteau during the arbitration proceedings.  Chesky's statement was subsequently admitted into evidence before the arbitration panel, which upheld the termination of Piteau's employment.  Thereafter, Piteau brought this "hybrid action" in which he sued his employer for breach of the collective bargaining agreement and his union for breach of its duty of fair representation in mishandling the related grievance and arbitration proceedings.  Both defendants moved to dismiss the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the ground that Piteau had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.  The legislature, by enacting General Statutes § 7-468 (d), recognized a union's breach of its duty of fair representation as an unfair labor practice.  Based on the legislative history of § 7-468 (d), the trial court concluded that, before bringing a claim in the Superior Court against a union for breach of its duty of fair representation, an employee is required to first bring the claim before the state board of labor relations.  Contending that the Superior Court has jurisdiction to hear claims alleging breaches of collective bargaining agreements, Piteau maintained that because he was bringing a hybrid claim against the union and the board, the court had jurisdiction to consider both claims and he was not required to bring his claims before the state board of labor relations in the first instance.  In support of his position, Piteau relied on Labbe v. Hartford Pension Commission, 239 Conn. 168 (1996).  The court, however, found that Labbe was distinguishable, noting that, at the time the plaintiffs in Labbe brought their hybrid action, § 7-468 (d) had not yet been enacted.  Accordingly, the court dismissed Piteau's action for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, ruling that the state board of labor relations has primary jurisdiction over claims alleging a union's breach of its duty of fair representation and concomitant claims of breach of an employment agreement.  In this appeal, the Supreme Court will review the trial court's decision.