YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – An Ohio Supreme Court decision surrounding a case out of Stark County has settled an issue as to whether an employee has to go through union channels first before they sue an employer.

The case surrounds a 2019 injury to a worker who lost four fingers while trying to repair a grinding machine at Superior Dairy. He alleged that Superior removed a safety mechanism that would shut off the grinder when it was disassembled. A supervisor activated the machine, the employee said.

The worker sued Superior for intentional injury, but the company said the lawsuit couldn’t stand because the worker did not go through the grievance and arbitration process established by the union and the company.

In a 4-3 decision, the court ruled that the lawsuit claiming an intentional injury by the employer was not covered by the collective bargaining agreement say that the agreement only covered employment-related laws or statutes.

Justice Jennifer Brunner explained that “any clause in a bargaining agreement requiring mandatory arbitration must contain “clear and unmistakable” language as to what disputes are covered by the agreement. She wrote that arbitration was not required in Sinley’s case because the agreement made no mention of intentional torts, the Ohio law permitting intentional tort lawsuits against employers.”

One judge on the panel disagreed. Justice Sharon Kennedy wrote that the collective bargaining agreement included all actions by the employer except for workers’ compensation matters.