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U.S. Supreme Court

Barrentine v. Arkansas-Best Freight Sys., 450 U.S. 728 (1981)

Barrentine v. Arkansas-Best Freight System

No. 79-2006

Argued January 13, 1981

Decided April 6, 1981

450 U.S. 728


Petitioner truckdrivers are not paid for the time spent conducting a required pre-trip safety inspection of respondent employer motor carrier's trucks and transporting trucks that fail such inspection to the employer's on-premises repair facility. Petitioners' union submitted a wage claim for petitioners' pre-trip inspection and transportation time to a joint grievance committee pursuant to its collective bargaining agreement with petitioners' employer. The joint committee rejected the claim without explanation. Petitioners then filed an action in Federal District Court, alleging that the pre-trip safety inspection and transportation time was compensable under § 6 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and that they were therefore entitled to the statutory remedy of actual and liquidated damages, costs, and reasonable attorney's fees. They also alleged that respondent union had breached its duty of fair representation, and sought to have the joint grievance committee's decision set aside and to have proper compensation awarded under the collective bargaining agreement. The District Court addressed only the fair representation claim, and rejected it. The Court of Appeals affirmed, and also held that the District Court was correct in not addressing the FLSA claim, concluding that petitioners' voluntary submission of their grievances to arbitration barred them from asserting their statutory wage claims in the subsequent court action.

Held: Petitioners' wage claims under the FLSA are not barred by the prior submission of their grievances to the contractual dispute resolution procedures. Pp. 450 U. S. 734-746.

(a) The FLSA rights petitioners seek to assert are independent of the collective bargaining process. Such rights devolve on petitioners as individual workers, not as members of the union, and are not waivable. While courts should defer to an arbitral decision where the employee's claim is based on rights arising out of a collective bargaining agreement, different considerations apply where the employee's claim is based on rights arising out of a statute, such as the FLSA, designed to provide minimum substantive guarantees to individual workers. Cf. Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U. S. 36. Pp. 450 U. S. 734-741.

Page 450 U. S. 729

(b) There are two reasons why an employee's right to a minimum wage and overtime pay under the FLSA might be lost if submission of his wage claim to arbitration precluded him from later bringing an FLSA suit in federal court. First, even if the employee's claim were meritorious, his union might, without breaching its duty of fair representation, reasonably and in good faith decide not to support the claim vigorously in arbitration. Second, even when the union has fairly and fully presented the employee's wage claim, the employee's statutory rights might still not be adequately protected. Because the arbitrator is required to effectuate the intent of the parties, rather than to enforce the statute, he may issue a ruling that is inimical to the public policies underlying the FLSA, thus depriving an employee of protected statutory rights. Furthermore, not only are arbitral procedures less protective of individual statutory rights than are judicial procedures, but also arbitrators very often are powerless to grant the aggrieved employees as broad a range of relief. Under the FLSA, courts can award actual and liquidated damages, reasonable attorney's fees, and costs, whereas an arbitrator can award only that compensation authorized by the wage provisions of the collective bargaining agreement. Pp. 450 U. S. 742-745.

615 F.2d 1194, reversed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J.,filed I dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 450 U. S. 746.

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