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Teixeira v. Quality Beverage Limited Partnership

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 3, 2019

CHAD TEIXEIRA, For Himself and for Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiff,
v.
QUALITY BEVERAGE LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          NATHANIEL M. GORTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Chad Teixeira (“Teixeira” or “plaintiff”) brings this putative class action, on behalf of himself and at least 16 other similarly situated employees, against his employer, Quality Beverage Limited Partnership (“Quality Beverage” or “defendant”). Teixeira alleges that Quality Beverage improperly diverted funds to pay health insurance premiums in excess of the rate provided under a collective bargaining agreement (“the CBA”) and thus owes those employees unpaid wages pursuant to M.G.L. c. 149, §§ 148 and 150. Pending before this Court is defendant's motion to dismiss on the grounds that the state law claim is preempted by Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“the LMRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 185.

         I. Background

         A. The CBA

         Teixeira is a Massachusetts resident who was employed by Quality Beverage from at least September, 2014, through May, 2017. Quality Beverage is an independently-owned beer wholesaler with offices in Taunton and Auburn, Massachusetts, and distributes beer and other products to retailers throughout eastern Massachusetts.

         In May, 2012, defendant entered into a CBA with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 170 Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers Corporation (“the Union”) which was the authorized bargaining unit for plaintiff and all similarly situated employees. Teixeira served as the Union steward. The CBA covered the period from May, 2012, through May, 2017. Under Article 13 of the CBA, defendant was required to provide its employees life insurance, medical coverage and a disability plan. The CBA also effectively provided for reimbursement to the employees of the cost of their health insurance plans. Employees enrolled after May, 2007, were required to contribute no more than 20% of the total cost of their health plans and employees hired after May, 2012, were required to contribute no more than 25% of the total cost. The CBA directs that arbitration is the sole method for settling complaints with respect to alleged violations of the agreement and that the award of the arbitrator is “final and binding on the parties”.

         In 2014, Quality Beverage began offering two separate health insurance plans, a basic plan and a premium plan. All Union employees were automatically enrolled in the basic plan but could choose to enroll in the premium plan. Those who remained enrolled in the basic plan were not required to pay more than the 20% or 25% contribution limits. Those who enrolled in the premium plan, however, paid an amount greater than 20% or 25% of the total cost of that plan (up to as much as 32%) and defendant did not notify those employees that their premium contributions exceeded the limits allowed under the CBA. As of May, 2017, 17 employees, including Teixeira, had switched to the premium plan and thus were contributing an amount in excess of that provided by the CBA.

         In April, 2017, while negotiating a new CBA for 2017-2022, the Union's business agent discovered that Quality Beverage had been overcharging some of its employees for their monthly health insurance premiums since the fall of 2014. Shortly thereafter, Teixeira filed a grievance with Quality Beverage alleging that he and other similarly situated employees had been overcharged for their health insurance in violation of the CBA. It was estimated that the subject employees had contributed nearly $90, 000 in overpayments from 2014 through 2017.

         B. The Grievance and Arbitration

         The grievance was arbitrated in November, 2017, and in February, 2018, the Arbitrator rendered her decision and award. She determined that Quality Beverage had violated the CBA, beginning in the fall of 2014, by charging more than the premium limit and by failing to notify the Union or the employees of the excess premium under the plan. The Arbitrator concluded, however, that the financial remedy for that violation was limited to damages incurred after eight days before the date of the filing of the grievance under the so-called “continuing violation doctrine”. Teixeira and other similarly situated employees were thus limited to recovering backpay for the period from mid-April, 2017, until the end of the CBA then in effect.

         C. Procedural History

         In March, 2018, plaintiff filed a complaint with the Fair Labor Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General, seeking permission to file a civil lawsuit against Quality Beverage. The Attorney General granted that request. In April, 2018, plaintiff filed a complaint in the Bristol County Superior Court pursuant to M.G.L. c. 149, §§ 148 and 150, seeking backpay covering the entire period from 2014 through May, 2017, in contravention of the Arbitrator's award.

         In July, 2018, Quality Beverage removed the case to this Court on the basis of federal subject matter jurisdiction under the LMRA. In August, 2018, defendant filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that 1) the state law claim was preempted by Section 301 of the LMRA, 2) the complaint was untimely and 3) plaintiff lacked standing.

         II. ...


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