Cook County Record

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Defendants remove wrongful termination suit to federal court; fired employee alleges breach of contract

By Andrew Thomason | Oct 17, 2013


The defendants in a wrongful termination suit involving alcohol and alleged racism have removed the matter from Cook County Circuit Court to Chicago's federal court.

Chicago Beverage Systems LLC and its parent company, Reyes Holding LLC, assert in their removal notice that federal court has jurisdiction over the lawsuit because it alleges violations of the Labor Management Relations Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

Rickey Johnson filed the suit against Chicago Beverage Systems, Reyes Holding and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local No. 744 after Chicago Beverage Systems fired him for failing a breathalyzer test requested by his boss.

On April 23, 2012, Johnson went in to work early to talk to his boss, Kevin McGillen, about vacation time. Johnson noticed a forklift was out of place before he talked to McGillen, and returned it to where it belonged, according to court filings.

When Johnson started talking with his boss, McGillen thought he smelled alcohol and asked Johnson to take a Breathalyzer test, according to the complaint. Johnson took the test, which revealed he had a blood alcohol content of .05 percent.

Johnson was fired the next day.

At the time of his firing, Johnson was a member of the teamsters and was working under the collective bargaining agreement the union had secured. He alleges in his suit that his employer breached that contract when it failed to give him a week’s notice prior to his firing, or a week’s pay in lieu of the notice.

The collective bargaining agreement at issue states that employees must be given one week’s notice of termination in writing, or one week’s pay if the firing is immediate. But, the agreement goes on to state that none of those stipulations apply if the employee is intoxicated or consuming alcohol during work hours.

Johnson claims he didn’t violate the agreement because he tested positive for alcohol about 30 minutes before his shift started, and he had .05 percent blood alcohol content, lower than the legal limit of intoxication for operating a car.

Johnson, who is black, also claims in his suit that his firing was racially motivated, a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“With intent and design the Defendants took action to discharge Plaintiff because he was an African American,” the suit states, noting that his replacement was a white male.

Johnson filed a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights, but it was dismissed for lack of substantial evidence.

He is also suing his former union for a breach of duty of fair representation, claiming it failed to fulfill its duties to him by not providing assistance in filing a grievance.

Other counts in Johnson’s suit include retaliatory discharge, breach of contract and wrongful termination.

Johnson asks in his complaint to be rehired to his position and awarded damages equal to his lost wages and benefits, as well as compensatory damages in excess of $50,000 and punitive damages of more than $50,000.

In their removal notice, the defendants argue that because the suit involves an alleged violation of a contract between an employer and a labor organization, the case falls under the Labor Management Relations Act, thus giving federal court original jurisdiction over the matter.

The defendants also argue that federal court has original jurisdiction over the counts alleging violations of the federal civil rights statutes and supplemental jurisdiction over the counts that don’t concern federal laws.

Attorneys J. Kevin Hennessy, Scot A. Hinshaw and James R. Glenn of Vedder Price P.C. in Chicago represent the defendants.

Maywood attorney Luther F. Spence represents Johnson.





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Vedder Price PC