Legal Memorandum: "Unequivocal Refusal" to Arbitrate

Issue: What conduct constitutes an ‘unequivocal refusal’ to arbitrate, which starts the running of 6-month limitations period in section 10(b) of the National Labor Relations Act?

Area of Law: Alternative Dispute Resolution, Employee Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: "Unequivocal refusal" to arbitrate; Limitations period; National Labor Relations Act
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 994 F.2d 674; 820 F.2d 31; 991 F.2d 1545; 180 F.3d 368
Cited Statutes: Section 10(b) of the National Labor Relations Act
Date: 11/01/2004


The following cases relate to this question:

Local Jt. Exec. Bd. v. Exber, Inc., 994 F.2d 674 (9th Cir. 1993) (holding that for an employer to unequivocally refuse or “‘make it clear’ that it refuses to arbitrate and, therefore, to start the statute of limitations running, an unequivocal, express rejection of the union’s request for arbitration must be communicated to the union.  Constructive notice is not sufficient.”)

In re I.B.E.W. Sys. Council U-7, 180 F.3d 368 (2d Cir. 1999) (citing and quoting with approval, the above language from Exber and holding that limitations period did not start to run when employer presumed that grievant had abandoned arbitration and it closed it file; rather “[i]n order for a cause of action to compel a labor arbitration to accrue, a party must have clearly and unequivocally refused to proceed,” which did not occur until the employer in later correspondence expressly refused to arbitrate in response to union requests)

Aluminum Brick & Glass Workers Int’l Union v. AAA Plumbing Pottery Corp., 991 F.2d 1545 (11th Cir. 1993) (Letter from employer stating in response to union suggestion that the parties return to arbitration that “I’m sure you will agree that the matter is closed and it would be inappropriate to reopen it at this time” was unequivocal refusal, especially in light of subsequent conduct of employer showed that it had not locked itself into one position.  […]

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