Vega v. New Forest Home Cemetery, LLC, No. 16-3119 (7th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Dismissal for failure to exhaust collective bargaining agreement (CBA) grievance process was improper where it was unclear that CBA required resort to that process for claims under Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
Vega worked for Forest as a seasonal employee, subject to a CBA that included a mandatory four-step procedure culminating in arbitration to resolve employee grievances. Forest terminated Vega. At the time, Vega was owed compensation for 54 hours of work in the preceding two weeks. Forest did not tender a final paycheck, purportedly because it discovered that Vega lacked a valid Social Security number and it did not know how to lawfully make payment to him without such a number. The parties dispute whether Vega made efforts to initiate a grievance. The district court dismissed Vega’s suit under the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. 206(b), for failure to exhaust the grievance procedure. The Seventh Circuit reversed, stating that the collective bargaining agreement did not clearly and unmistakably waive Vega’s right to pursue his FLSA claim in a judicial forum. The district court did not consider whether the CBA required Vega to resort to the grievance process when he is pursuing rights granted to him by the FLSA rather than the contract itself.