Wednesday, August 13, 2014
TV Personality’s Individual Contract Dispute With Station Not Subject to Arbitration Clause in Union Contract—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
An on-air personality who had an individual contract with a television station, in addition to being represented by a labor union, cannot be compelled to arbitrate under the union contract with respect to claims that his personal contract was violated, or to related statutory claims, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Five affirmed a trial court ruling in favor of Kurt Knutsson, also known as “Kurt the CyberGuy,” who claims that KTLA-TV in Los Angeles prematurely terminated his five-year contract to provide technology segments for the station’s broadcasts, as well as for syndication. Knutsson began the segments in 1995 and reached an agreement with KTLA in 1996, under which the station provided production facilities and assistance, and obtained the rights to air and distribute Knutsson’s reporting.
Knutsson claims that his segments disappeared from about two dozen stations in 2011—when he was taken off the air three years into a five-year contract—and that Internet users seeking to view the segments or obtain other information based on his reporting are redirected to sites featuring Rich DiMuro, who the station hired to replace him.
KTLA last year moved to compel arbitration of Knutsson’s complaint for contract breach; misappropriation of his name and likeness; unfair business practices; and age discrimination in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. The station cited its contract with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which sets out a procedure for resolution of employee grievances.
That process includes several steps, culminating in binding arbitration if the grievance is not resolved at an earlier stage. The initial steps include informal discussion with a supervisor, submission of a formal written grievance, and a meeting between a union representative and management.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Steven J. Kliefield denied the motion. He noted that neither party had undertaken to resolve the dispute under any of the pre-arbitration steps, found that such steps were a prerequisite for seeking arbitration, and denied arbitration on that basis.
Presiding Justice Paul A. Turner, writing for the Court of Appeal, said that KTLA had forfeited its rights under the pre-arbitration provisions, as a matter of federal labor law, by failing to invoke them in a timely manner.
With respect to the defendant’s asserted right to arbitration, the presiding justice noted that under the union contract, while either an employee or the union can invoke the right to informal resolution at the first step of the grievance process, only the union can seek any of the more formal remedies, including arbitration.
Nothing in the contract, he said, permits the employer to force Knutsson, as opposed to the union, into arbitration.
“Here, plaintiffs and defendant never agreed to arbitrate any dispute between them,” Turner wrote. “The collective bargaining agreement expressly states only the union and defendant may require arbitration of the other party. The collective bargaining agreement does not grant a union member the power to compel defendant to arbitrate a dispute. Conversely, defendant may only compel the union to arbitrate, not a member of the rank and file. Defendant has cited no common law developed by the federal courts that creates a duty by an employee under these circumstances to arbitrate a dispute.”
Stephen R. Mick and Christian A. Jordan of Barnes & Thornburg represented KTLA, while Judith Salkow Shapiro and Karen Moskowitz represented Knutsson.
The case is Knuttson v. KTLA, Inc., 14 S.O.S. 3369.
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