Detroit Local Looses First Round of Discrimination Case

U.S. Dist. Judge Gerald E. Rosen (E.D. Mich., H.W. Bush) denied the Am. Fed’n of Musicians Local 5’s motion for summary judgment on the sex discrimination claim by a female opera house worker, Diane Bredesen, ruling that federal labor law does not preempt a claim that the Detroit-based local violated Mich.’s anti-discrimination law by purposefully negotiating a contract that caused her to be paid at half the rate paid to men in her position under other union contracts. However, Rosen rejected Bredesen’s claim that the union breached its duty of fair representation, finding that Bredesen failed to exhaust internal union remedies available for that complaint.

Bredesen worked as a “house contractor” for the Detroit Opera House. When Bredesen began her job in 1996, she was the only woman to hold that position in any major Detroit-area venue and the first female house contractor to be represented by the local. She alleged that when she started her job, she asked local president Carl Austin to negotiate a “double scale” salary, but Austin told her that all house contractors represented by the local were paid a uniform rate equal to a “side-musician” rate. Bredesen agreed to this rate, and it was incorporated into the 1996-98 Detroit Opera House collective bargaining agreement.   In Oct. 1999, Bredesen discovered that all of the other Detroit area venues, which were covered by the local, were paying their house contractors, all males, double the regular side-musician rate. In addition, the other venues paid house contractors — who, like Bredesen, also worked as musicians — these double-scale rates plus the regular side-musician rates for their services as musicians.   Bredesen further alleged that Austin tried to bully her and dictate hiring decisions. When Bredesen made her own decisions, she claimed, Austin became infuriated and threatened to have her fired. She said he told her “it’s time the boys sit down and teach you a lesson and teach you the way it has to be done.”

After Bredesen learned of the pay discrepancy, she obtained copies of the union contracts with the other venues and presented the documentation to the Detroit Opera House. The employer quickly signed a side agreement with her changing her payment rate to double scale. The employer asked the union to sign the side letter, but the union balked, the court said. After the union was served with the complaint in this lawsuit, the court added, it signed the letter, editing out of it all references to the fact that the other venues paid their house contractors double scale.  [BNA 10/11/01]