Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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Cadillac of Naperville's service mechanics went on strike in 2017. The National Labor Relations Board found that the dealership responded to the strike unlawfully (29 U.S.C. 158(a)) by discharging one mechanic for his union activity, threatening to retaliate against several mechanics, and refusing to bargain with the mechanics’ union. The mechanic, Bisbikis, was one of six mechanics permanently replaced during the strike and had approached the dealership’s owner about certain worker complaints. The owner had “warned” Bisbikis that “things would not be the same” if the mechanics decided to strike. After the strike settled, the owner stated that Bisbikis was a ringleader of the strike and he no longer wanted to employ Bisbikis. Later, the owner fired Bisbikis, assertedly for insubordination. The owner subsequently sought to restrict union access to Naperville premises.At the NLRB’s request, the D.C. Circuit remanded the discharge issue for the Board to apply its intervening decision changing the framework under which it assesses alleged retaliation in mixed-motive cases. Under that decision, the NLRB bears the initial burden of proving that union activity was a “motivating factor” in an adverse action against an employee; if it meets that burden, the employer must prove that it “would have taken the same action in the absence of the unlawful motive.” The court rejected the dealership’s other challenges. View "Cadillac of Naperville, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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The San Antonio Symphony contracts to perform most of its shows at the Tobin Center. After the Tobin Center barred the Symphony’s musicians from distributing leaflets on the premises, the musicians’ union filed an unfair labor practices charge. The leaflets informed patrons attending a ballet performance that they would not hear a live symphony and encouraged them to insist on live music. The National Labor Relations Board revised its approach and concluded that a property owner has the right to exclude from its property off-duty contractor employees seeking access to the property to engage in Section 7 activity unless those employees work both regularly and exclusively on the property and the property owner fails to show that they have one or more reasonable non-trespassory alternative means to communicate their message.The D.C. Circuit remanded. In aiming to identify those contractor employees with a sufficiently strong connection to the property to warrant the grant of access rights, the Board’s approach was arbitrary, both as to the condition that contractor employees work “regularly” on the property and as to the condition that they also work “exclusively” on the property. On remand, the Board may decide whether to proceed with a version of the test it announced and sought to apply in this case or to develop a new test. View "Local 23, American Federation of Musicians v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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USAID administers the government’s foreign development assistance program. OIG, USAID’s oversight arm, includes Offices of Investigations and of Management. In 2012, OIG hired Marcato to the management office. Marcato frequently alleged misconduct by high-ranking officials, reporting within OIG that officials had doctored reports sent to Congress. She repeated those allegations to Senate staffers, prompting unfavorable media coverage. Marcato interfered with Giacalone's investigative work. Her supervisors met with Marcato to explain a protocol for Marcato in speaking to Giacalone or entering the Investigations workspace. Marcato recorded the meeting on her cell phone, despite a USAID security policy barring the unauthorized use of such a device. Marcato continued to contact Giacalone and violated the protocol several times. She sent e-mails that prompted concern over disclosures of sensitive information. An investigation of Marcato’s conduct, including her e-mail disclosure, cell phone recording, and failure to follow the communications protocol, was conducted by the OIG of the Defense Department because Marcato “self-identified as a whistleblower.” Defense substantiated four instances of misconduct. Marcato’s removal noted that Marcato’s disclosures “could have jeopardized the integrity” of an ongoing criminal investigation” and that confidence in Marcato had been “irreparably damaged.”The D.C. Circuit affirmed the Merit Systems Protection Board's rejection of her claims under the Whistleblower Protection Act. A federal agency may defend an adverse personnel action taken against a whistleblower by showing that it would have taken the same action in the absence of any protected disclosures. View "Marcato v. United States Agency for International Development" on Justia Law

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The Union and AT&T entered into a contract governing certification of the Union to represent non-management employees and the relationship between the parties, requiring the parties to arbitrate disputes over “the description of an appropriate unit for bargaining” and the definition of “nonmanagement” employees. All other disputes arising under the contract “shall not be subject to arbitration.” Disputes that are subject to arbitration must “be submitted to arbitration administered by, and in accordance with, the rules of the American Arbitration Association (AAA).” The AAA’s Labor Arbitration Rules provide that the arbitrator shall have the power to rule on his own jurisdiction, “including any objections with respect to the existence, scope, or validity of the arbitration agreement.” After AT&T acquired Time Warner, the Union initiated discussions about “appropriate potential bargaining units in the newly acquired company.” The parties could not reach an agreement. The Union sought to compel arbitration. The district court dismissed, finding the dispute did not lie within the categories of arbitrable disputes, and that it (as opposed to the arbitrator) could make that threshold determination.The D.C. Circuit vacated. The agreement delegates threshold questions of arbitrability to an arbitrator. The question of whether the parties’ dispute falls within the contract’s arbitration clause, then, is for an arbitrator, not a court, to decide. The district court lacked jurisdiction to determine whether the dispute must be submitted to arbitration. View "Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO v. AT&T Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2009, Finberg became the Chief Operating Officer of Adams, a produce distributor. Grinstead was Adams’s CEO. In 2011, federal authorities investigated Adams for fraud against the Department of Defense. Finberg claims he was unaware of the scheme until later when suppliers and Adams’s CFO discussed the scheme in front of him. Finberg agreed to gradually end the scheme to avoid further detection. Adams hired a law firm to internally investigate its operations, which revealed that CEO Grinstead had engaged in extensive fraud. PNC Bank froze the business’s accounts; Adams was unable to promptly pay suppliers $10 million. Adams declared bankruptcy. Grinstead pled guilty to wire fraud, misprision of felony, and multiple failures to file tax returns. Finberg pled guilty to misprision of a felony. A disciplinary complaint was filed against Adams with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, alleging violation of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, 7 U.S.C. 499b(4), by failing to promptly pay suppliers. The determination that Adams violated the Act triggered the Act’s employment bar for each person who was responsibly connected to the violation.An ALJ found that Finberg was responsibly connected. A USDA Judicial Officer affirmed, finding that Finberg exercised judgment, discretion, or control once he learned of the fraudulent scheme and failed to report. The D.C. Circuit reversed The agency lacked substantial evidence that Finberg’s activities contributed to Adam’’s violation of the Act. View "Finberg v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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Alaska Communications provides telecommunications services throughout Alaska and in Oregon. While most of the company’s employees are based in Alaska, some are in Oregon. The union that represents a majority of the company’s employees did not previously represent any of the Oregon-based employees and sought to hold a representation election among a subset of the Oregon-based employees. The National Labor Relations Board certified a voting group that differed slightly from the petitioned-for unit, 29 U.S.C. 157, and that group voted to join the preexisting bargaining unit. The petitioned-for unit encompassed 12 Cable Systems Group employees, including both Holmes and Pavlenko. The Board excluded those individuals as being supervisors and added the only two employees who had not been included in the petition, finding that their exclusion “would unduly fragment the workforce and render the proposed Voting Group an irrational and indistinct one.”The D.C. Circuit rejected the company’s challenge to the certification of the voting group. The D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of the Board. The Board permissibly adjusted the composition of the voting group and permissibly determined that the group shares a community of interest with the preexisting bargaining unit it voted to join. View "Alaska Communications Systems Holdings, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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T-Mobile’s Wichita service center employs approximately 600 customer service representatives. Since 2009, the Union has been attempting to organize the workers. In 2015, Befort, a customer service representative, emailed her coworkers on her work computer from her work email address encouraging them to join union organizing efforts. She sent several separate email batches sent over the course of a day, while she was on break or finished with her shift, stating, “contact me with any questions, but please do so outside of working hours.” T-Mobile reprimanded Befort for sending the email and sent a facility-wide email stating that it did not permit its employees to send mass emails through the company email system for non-business purposes. An ALJ held that T-Mobile violated the National Labor Relations Act by discriminating against the employee based on the union-related content of her email. The Board reversed, distinguishing evidence that T-Mobile had previously permitted mass emails on the ground that those emails were not similar in character to Befort’s email. The D.C. Circuit reversed. The Board erred by relying on its own post hoc distinction between permissible and impermissible employee conduct to reject the evidence of disparate treatment. The policies and rationales that T-Mobile offered in defense of its actions do not support them. Actions taken and statements made by T-Mobile in response to Befort’s email reflect a singling out of union content. View "Communications Workers of America v. National Labor Relations Board" on Justia Law

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FCI Miami employees work in several departments. When the Custody Department was short-staffed, FCI either left Custody positions vacant or paid a Custody employee overtime. In 2016, FCI notified the union (AFGE) that it planned to start using Non-Custody employees to fill vacant Custody positions; it called the process “augmentation.” AFGE sought to negotiate the matter. FCI denied the request, stating that it had implemented augmentation consistent with the Master Agreement, which permits FCI to change the shift or assignment of Custody and Non-Custody employees: FCI viewed augmentation as “reassignment.”AFGE filed a formal grievance. An arbitrator concluded that FCI had breached a binding past practice of non-augmentation and violated the Master Agreement by implementing and failing to bargain over augmentation. FCI filed exceptions. The Federal Labor Relations Authority concluded that the arbitrator award failed to draw its essence from the parties’ agreement because the Master Agreement unambiguously “gives [FCI] broad discretion to assign and reassign employees”—encompassing the practice of augmentation— and set aside the award. The D.C. Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute allows for judicial review of an Authority decision arising from review of arbitral awards only if “the order involves an unfair labor practice, 5 U.S.C. 7123(a)(1). The Authority decision does not “involve” an unfair labor practice. View "American Federation of Government Employees Local 3690 v. Federal Labor Relations Authority" on Justia Law

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Farrar began working for NASA in 2010. When NASA fired him five months later, he filed an administrative action alleging disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 791 –794g. For the most part, Farrar prevailed. NASA awarded him compensatory damages, costs, and fees of about $13,000. Farrar appealed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which increased the award to about $35,000 and ordered NASA to pay Farrar within 60 days. Farrar could either accept the Commission’s disposition or file a civil action within 90 days. After NASA paid him, Farrar filed a civil action. Because Farrar accepted the money from NASA, the district court dismissed his case.The D.C. Circuit reinstated the suit, finding no statute or regulation that required Farrar to return, or offer to return, the money before filing suit. A federal employee cannot bind the government to an administrative finding of liability and then litigate only the remedy in court but that rule does not address whether a federal employee who has retained an administrative remedy must disgorge, or offer to disgorge, the award upon filing a de novo lawsuit. The Commission’s regulations show it is aware that it sometimes orders agencies to pay an employee’s damages before the employee files a civil action but nevertheless retained discretion to order payment before 120 days. View "Farrar v. Nelson" on Justia Law

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After the Department of Labor determined that Overdevest had violated regulations governing the H-2A temporary visa program, the plant nursery challenged the regulations in district court. The Department concluded that Overdevest violated the H-2A regulations requiring employers to pay the adverse effect wage rate to any U.S. workers serving in corresponding employment. Overdevest argued that the regulations were an impermissible interpretation of the statute and were arbitrarily promulgated and enforced against Overdevest.The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Department, concluding that 8 U.S.C. 1188(a)(1) is not unambiguous and the Department's definition of "corresponding employment" was reasonable. The court explained that the regulation advances the statute's purpose by ensuring that when H-2A workers are performing duties that do not implicate their qualifications, non-H-2A workers will not be placed at a disadvantage. The court rejected Overdevest's argument that the Department arbitrarily and capriciously promulgated the definition of corresponding employment. Finally, the court concluded that the Secretary's enforcement of the 2010 rule against Overdevest was not arbitrary and capricious. View "Overdevest Nurseries, LP v. Walsh" on Justia Law