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Barry v. UMass Memorial Medical Center, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 28, 2017



          Timothy S. Hillman United States District Judge


         Plaintiff Cynthia Barry (“Plaintiff”) asserts a several claims against her former employer UMass Memorial Medical Center, Inc. (“UMass” or “Defendant”). In her Complaint, the Plaintiff alleges a number of claims based on her alleged wrongful discharge from employment. UMass moves to dismiss all but two counts of Plaintiff's seven count Complaint. For the reasons set forth below, the partial motion to dismiss is granted.

         Procedural and Factual History

         The following facts are taken from Plaintiff's verified complaint and assumed true for the purposes of these motions. Cynthia Barry is an individual who resides in Worcester, Massachusetts and is a licensed respiratory therapist. She was hired by UMass on June 18, 2007 to work at the Worcester Memorial Campus. While employed by UMass Memorial, the Plaintiff's employment was subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) entered into between State Healthcare and Research Employees (“SHARE” or the “Union”) and UMass Memorial. The CBA provides a grievance procedure and outlines the disciplinary process.[1] Plaintiff asserts that proper procedure was not followed.

         On the night of October 31, 2015, Plaintiff worked the night shift, which was her usual shift, and retrieved respiratory medication twice for a patient using the correct procedure for accessing drugs. On November 1, 2015, Plaintiff was called in by a supervisor and told to not return to work. She was put on paid investigative leave without explanation. Plaintiff was called to a meeting the following day and accused of breaking an envelope and taking narcotic medications. Plaintiff denied all allegations.

         Plaintiff was allegedly threatened that she would be reported for committing a crime. Connie St. Amand, the Human Resource Representative, at the meeting, mocked Plaintiff and told her she was guilty. Plaintiff requested to bring counsel to another meeting with Ms. St. Amand, who refused to allow Plaintiff's counsel to attend the meeting. Plaintiff did not attend the second meeting. Plaintiff's employment was terminated on November 17, 2015. UMass ultimately determined that it had “concluded our investigation of multiple Pyxis discrepancies. We conclude that a common individual, Cynthia Barry, a respiratory therapist was involved in four 94) different discrepancies.” After requesting and receiving her employment records, however, Plaintiff contends that the records contain “no evidence of wrongdoing: and “[n]o evidence of theft of drugs … have been produced ...” Plaintiff then filed a lawsuit in Worcester Superior Court. She asserts the following claims in her complaint: (a) Count I - Wrongful Discharge, arising out of her termination of employment allegedly “without just cause”; (b) Count II - Wrongful Discharge, arising out of alleged defamation of the Plaintiff; (c) Count III - Libel, based upon UMass Memorial allegedly creating written records causing damages of libel against Barry; (d) Count IV - Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, arising out of “the accusations of the theft of narcotics, and termination of employment ….”; (e) Count V - Declaratory Relief under M.G.L. c. 231A seeking a declaration that “her termination of employment [was] in violation of the SHARE (UMass contract)”; (f) Count VI - Breach of Contract, arising out of an alleged breach of contract of employment; (g) Count VII - Breach of Contract, alleging that “UMass Memorial violated the union contract by terminating her without cause … .” The case was removed to this Court, with jurisdiction based on section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. § 185.

         UMass has moved to dismiss Counts I, IV, V, VI, and VII, arguing that they are preempted by Section 301 of the LMRA and also contends that Count IV should be dismissed because it is barred by the exclusivity provision in the Workers' Compensation Act.[2]

         Standard of Review

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege “a plausible entitlement to relief.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 559 (2007). Although detailed factual allegations are not necessary to survive a motion to dismiss, the standard “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. at 555. “The relevant inquiry focuses on the reasonableness of the inference of liability that the plaintiff is asking the court to draw from the facts alleged in the complaint.” Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 13 (1st Cir. 2011). In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Langadinos v. American Airlines, Inc., 199 F.3d 68, 68 (1st Cir. 2000).


         1. Preemption by Section 301 of the LMRA

         Section 301 of the LMRA, 29 U.S.C. § 185(a), provides that “[s]uits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization . . . may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties . . . .” Although section 301 “on its face is only a grant of federal jurisdiction, the Supreme Court has deemed labor contracts within its scope ‘creatures of federal law' and ‘treats section 301 as a warrant both for removing to federal court state law claims preempted by section 301 and then dismissing them.'” Haggins v. Verizon New England, Inc., 648 F.3d 50, 54 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting O'Donnell v. Boggs, 611 F.3d 50, 53 (1st Cir. 2010)) (citations omitted). “This doctrine ‘applies most readily to state-law contract claims purporting to enforce CBAs covered by section 301, '. . . but it ‘extends beyond this point to other claims ... whose enforcement interferes with federal labor law and policy.'” Id. (quoting O'Donnell, 611 F.3d at 53, 54). This type of “interference exists if the state-law claims ‘require construing the collective-bargaining agreement.'” Id. (quoting O'Donnell, 611 F.3d at 54) (citation omitted).

         Thus, section 301 preempts a state law claim when the claim “plausibly can be said to depend upon the meaning of one or more provisions within the collective bargaining agreement.'” Id. at 54-55 (quoting Flibotte v. Pa. Truck Lines, Inc.,131 F.3d 21, 26 (1st Cir. 1997)). A state law claim “‘depend[s] on the meaning of a collective bargaining agreement' if either, (1) ‘it alleges conduct that arguably constitutes a breach of duty that arises pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement, ' or (2) ‘its resolution arguably hinges upon an interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement.'” Id. at 55 (quoting Flibotte, 131 F.3d at 26) (internal quotation marks omitted); see Quesnel v. Prudential Ins. Co., 66 F.3d 8, 10 (1st Cir. 1995) (“It is ...

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