Willard R. Meadows, Plaintiff-appellant, v. General Electric Company, Defendant-appellee,equal Employment Advisory Council, Amicus Curiae, 875 F.2d 315 (4th Cir. 1990)

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US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit - 875 F.2d 315 (4th Cir. 1990) Argued March 7, 1989. Decided May 10, 1989. Rehearing and Rehearing In Banc Denied March 26, 1990

John Holliday Kennett, Jr. for appellant.

Clinton Stephen Morse (Woods, Rogers & Hazlegrove on brief) for appellee.

(Robert E. Williams, Douglas S. McDowell, Katrina Grider, McGuiness & Williams on brief) for Amicus Curiae, Equal Employment Advisory Committee.

Before WIDENER, K.K. HALL, and WILKINS, Circuit Judges.


Appellant, Willard R. Meadows, brought a state court action against his former employer, General Electric Company ("G.E."), seeking to recover damages for the Virginia state law torts of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.1  After removal, the district court held that Meadows' claims were preempted by Sec. 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185, and granted summary judgment to G.E. Meadows appeals and we affirm.

Meadows was placed on involuntary sick leave for two months in 1986 and was requested by G.E. management to seek counselling for problems he was experiencing with fellow employees. The impetus for G.E.'s action was reports that Meadows had threatened to shoot some coworkers. While he was on this involuntary leave, management instructed its security personnel to prohibit Meadows from entering the workplace. To this end, Meadows' picture was distributed to the security officers; the picture included a statement that Meadows might be armed and dangerous. Meadows' tort claims center on the instructions given to the security force and the posting of his picture at each guard post.

State law tort claims are preempted by Sec. 301 if resolution of these claims depends on an interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement. Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202 (1985). The collective bargaining agreement to which Meadows and G.E. were parties provided that the company retained the right "to conduct its operations in a safe and effective manner." It also provided for an internal grievance procedure, including arbitration, to resolve disputes. Meadows declined to pursue the grievance route.

The district court concluded that the reasonableness of the security measures undertaken by G.E. was a question of the company's rights and obligations under the collective bargaining agreement. In Willis v. Reynolds Metals Co., 840 F.2d 254 (4th Cir. 1988), management was confronted with a situation involving anonymous threats and vandalism directed toward some of its employees. Management officials accused Willis of responsibility for the harassment, and Willis became so upset that she was subsequently hospitalized for nerves. Without first resorting to the grievance procedure under the collective bargaining agreement, Willis filed an action alleging state law tort claims of invasion of privacy, slander, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The district court granted summary judgment to the company, and we affirmed on the ground that the alleged tortious behavior directly dealt with the company's right, pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, to conduct investigations and to confront employees with regard to reports of harassment of fellow employees.

We hold that Willis is controlling on the preemption issue presented by Meadows' appeal. Resolution of Meadows' tort claims is substantially dependent upon an analysis of the terms of the collective bargaining agreement; in addition, the agreement establishes a procedure for handling employee grievances. Preemption is necessary to foster the Congressional goal of a unified body of labor-contract law and to preserve the central role of arbitration in the resolution of labor disputes. Allis-Chalmers, 471 U.S. at 209-210, 219. Having decided that Meadows' claims were preempted, the district court properly dismissed the complaint because Meadows had failed to exhaust the grievance procedure under the agreement. Republic Steel Corp. v. Maddox, 379 U.S. 650, 652 (1965).

The judgment of the district court is affirmed.



On appeal, Meadows has abandoned his state law claim for back wages