Farmer v. Carpenters,
430 U.S. 290 (1977)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Farmer v. Carpenters, 430 U.S. 290 (1977)

Farmer v. Carpenters

No. 75-804

Argued November 8, 1976

Decided March 7, 1977

430 U.S. 290


A member and officer (petitioner's decedent) of respondent local carpenters' Union brought a tort action for damages in California state court against respondent Unions and Union officials, alleging in count two of the complaint that, because of a sharp disagreement between him and Union officials over various internal Union policies, respondents had intentionally engaged in outrageous conduct, threats, and intimidation, and had thereby caused him to suffer emotional distress resulting in bodily injury; and alleging in other counts that respondent local Union had discriminated against him in referrals for employment in its hiring hall because of his dissident intra-Union political activities, that the Union had breached the hiring hall provisions of the collective bargaining agreement with a contractors association by failing to refer him on a nondiscriminatory basis, and that such failure to comply with the collective bargaining agreement also breached his membership contract with the union. The trial court sustained a demurrer to the allegations of discrimination and breach of contract on the ground that federal law preempted state jurisdiction over them, but allowed the case to go to trial on count two. The jury returned a verdict of actual and punitive damages for the plaintiff, and the trial court entered a judgment on the verdict. The California Court of Appeal reversed, holding that state courts had no jurisdiction over the complaint since the "crux" of the action concerned employment relations and involved conduct arguably subject to the National Labor Relations Board's jurisdiction.


1. The National Labor Relations Act does not preempt the action for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Pp. 430 U. S. 295-306.

(a) No provision of the NLRA protects the "outrageous conduct" complained of in count two, and regardless of whether the operation of the hiring hall was lawful or unlawful under federal statutes, there is no federal protection for union officers' conduct that is so outrageous that "no reasonable man in a civilized society should be expected to endure it." Hence, permitting the state courts to exercise jurisdiction over such

Page 430 U. S. 291

complaints does not result in state regulation of federally protected conduct. Pp. 430 U. S. 301-302.

(b) The State, on the other hand, has a substantial interest in protecting its citizens from the kind of abuse of which the plaintiff complained, and that interest is no less worthy of recognition because it concerns protection from emotional distress caused by outrageous conduct, rather than protection from physical injury or damage to reputation. Pp. 430 U. S. 302-303.

(c) Viewed in light of the discrete concerns of the federal scheme of labor regulation and the state tort law, the potential for interference with the federal scheme by the state cause of action is insufficient to counterbalance the legitimate and substantial interest of the State in protecting its citizens, since the state tort action can be resolved without reference to any accommodation of the special interests of unions and members in the hiring hall context. Pp. 30305.

(d) To permit concurrent state court jurisdiction it is essential that the state tort be either unrelated to employment discrimination or a function of the particularly abusive manner in which the discrimination is accomplished or threatened, rather than a function of the actual or threatened discrimination itself P. 430 U. S. 305.

2. It is clear from the record that the trial of the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress did not meet the above standards, since the evidence supporting the verdict for the plaintiff focuses less on the alleged "outrageous conduct" complained of than on employment discrimination; hence, the consequent risk that the verdict represented damages for employment discrimination, rather than for instances of intentional infliction of emotional distress precludes reinstatement of the trial court's judgment. P. 430 U. S. 306.

49 Cal.App.3d 614, 122 Cal.Rptr. 722, vacated and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 430 U. S. 292

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