NY: Underlying employment law
Facts: Plaintiff Mamorella was appointed to a three-year probationary appointment as principal of the Auburn West Middle School. One year into her employment the Superintendent of Schools sent plaintiff a letter notifying her of his intention to terminate her probationary appointment. Plaintiff contacted Empire State Supervisors and Administrators Association (ESSAA), an association of local bargaining units of public school administrators and supervisors across the State, which represents the bargaining unit to which plaintiff belonged to represent her. Derkasch was assigned to her case and filed a grievance against the school, which was denied. The plaintiff commenced the instant action against Derkasch for legal malpractice and against ESSAA for the negligence of Derkasch under the doctrine of respondeat superior, based upon the alleged status of Derkasch as an employee of ESSAA. The court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims finding that Derkasch was an independent contractor and that ESSAA cannot be held liable for negligent acts of an independent contractor. The plaintiff appealed.
Issue: Can an attorney who performs services on behalf of a union be held liable to individual members of the union where the services at issue constitute a part of the collective bargaining process?
Ruling: No. the plaintiff’s legal malpractice claim is preempted by Federal labor law, and that attorneys who perform services for and on behalf of a union may not be held liable for malpractice to individuals where the services performed constitute part of the collective bargaining process.
Lesson: An attorney who is handling a labor grievance on behalf of a union as part of the collective bargaining process has not entered into an ‘attorney-client’ relationship in the ordinary sense with the particular union member who is asserting the underlying grievance.