Federal Court Grants Union’s Bid to Force Churchill Downs Racetrack into Arbitration in Case Represented by BS&J Attorneys

Mar 26, 2021

A motion for summary judgment was granted to a Kentucky chapter of the Laborers’ International Union of North America in their bid to force Churchill Downs Racetrack LLC into arbitration in an ongoing labor dispute regarding staffing at the Louisville racetrack.

The motion was granted to Laborers’ Local 576 in March by U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings, who ruled that the racetrack failed to make their case that the union waived its right to arbitration.

“Plaintiff has not waived its right to arbitration because its actions here are not completely inconsistent with any reliance on its arbitration right, defendant has not shown sufficient prejudice, and there is a strong presumption in favor of arbitration,” Judge Jennings wrote in the opinion.

The defendant was ordered to submit the plaintiff’s grievance to arbitration in accordance with the parties’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

The union is represented by Peter J. Jannace, David O’Brien Suetholz and Pamela M. Newport of Branstetter Stranch & Jennings PLLC.

“The union is very pleased the court upheld the parties’ dispute resolution process and looks forward to protecting the work of its Churchill Downs members in arbitration,” Suetholz said.

The case, Laborers’ International Union of North America v. Churchill Downs Racetrack LLC (case number 3:19-cv-00936-RGJ-LLK), was filed on Dec. 30, 2019, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. The suit alleges that the racetrack entered into an agreement with a temporary staffing agency to subcontract housekeeping and maintenance services at a new track facility, which violated the parties’ CBA to use bargaining-unit employees for such services.

Churchill Downs had filed a motion for summary judgment in July 2020, claiming that Local 576’s arbitration bid is not permitted under the CBA and should be denied, and arguing that there was no substantive basis for the claims because the union’s allegations were false. Local 576’s own motion for summary judgment, filed in August 2020, asserted that the CBA’s arbitration clause was broad enough to compel the racetrack to arbitrate the claims. It also stated that Churchill Downs did not argue that the dispute over arbitration itself lacked a substantive basis, but simply argued that there was no basis for the union’s grievances.

In her opinion, Judge Jennings stated that no basis exists for concluding that certain types of disputes from arbitration are excluded from the CBA. “Because the court cannot say ‘with positive assurance’ that the CBA’s arbitration provision ‘is not susceptible of an interpretation that covers the asserted dispute,’ this dispute is arbitrable,” she wrote.