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Media Alerts - Gestamp South Carolina LLC v. NLRB - Fourth Circuit
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January 14, 2015
  Gestamp South Carolina LLC v. NLRB - Fourth Circuit
Headline: Gestamp Gone: NLRB Fails to Establish Prima Facie Case of Unfair Labor Practices for Discharge Claims but Succeeds with Threat Claim

Area of Law: Administrative Law, Labor Law

Issues Presented: Whether Gestamp South Carolina LLC committed unfair labor practices by (1) suspending and discharging two employees due to their unionization efforts ("the discharge claims") and (2) warning an employee he would be fired if a supervisor found out he was trying to unionize the facility ("the threat claim").

Brief Summary:
As a preliminary matter, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit had to determine whether the recess appointment of National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") Member Craig Becker deprived the NLRB of a valid quorum to act when it initially issued its order in this matter. Board Member Becker was appointed during a two-week intra-session recess exceeding two weeks. After his appointment, Becker participated in resolution of the instant matter, which was resolved unfavorably to Gestamp. The Fourth Circuit granted Gestamp's petition for review, denied the NLRB's cross-application for enforcement, vacated the NLRB's decision, and remanded the case for further proceedings; based on the determination that Board Member Craig Becker deprived the NLRB of a valid quorum to act when it originally enacted the order.

Thereafter, the Supreme Court granted the NLRB's petition for certiorari, vacated the Fourth Circuit's judgment, and remanded the case for further consideration in light of the Court's decision in NLRB v. Noel Canning, 134 S. Ct. 2550 (2014).

On remand, the Fourth Circuit held that Becker had been validly appointed to the NLRB at the time the agency issued its order in this case. Relying on NLRB v. Noel Canning, the Fourth Circuit found it was clear that the Recess Appointments Clause applied to both inter-session and intra-session recesses of substantial length. Recesses more than three days but less than ten days long were presumptively too short to fall within the Clause. However, Board Member Becker's appointment in an intra-session recess exceeding two weeks removed any doubt about the validity of his appointment. The Fourth Circuit then considered the merits of the case.

Two employees of Gestamp, a plant that manufactured metal body parts for BMW vehicles, were terminated from their respective positions after contacting the United Steelworkers ("the Union") regarding the possible organization of the facility's hourly employees. Before being terminated, one employee was warned by a supervisor that if the general manager discovered the unionization efforts, he would be "gone." The other employee was terminated after his supervisor noticed a 38-minute discrepancy on his employee-submitted electronic timesheets. Both terminations were made pursuant to the employee handbook, which provided that "misleading or false statements...made during an interview" or "[f] any books or records of the Company" could result in Gestamp withdrawing any employment offer or in termination.

The NLRB filed an unfair labor practices complaint against Gestamp. Following the hearing, the ALJ found Gestamp committed the alleged violations. With regard to the discharge claims, the ALJ concluded that both employees participated in a protected activity and that knowledge of the union activity could be imputed to Gestamp by virtue of its supervisors' awareness of their participation. The ALJ also found that the warning an employee would be "gone" if it was known he was participating in unionization efforts constituted a threat. On appeal, a three-member panel of the NLRB affirmed the ALJ's decision and adopted the order. Gestamp petitioned the Fourth Circuit for review of the NLRB order and the NLRB cross-petitioned for enforcement of the order.

The Fourth Circuit concluded that the General Counsel failed to establish a prima facie case as to the discharge claims. The court concluded that the ALJ never found evidence that the officials making the discharge decisions were aware of the employees' union activity, but rather only imputed the supervisor's knowledge to Gestamp at large. With regard to the threat claim, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the ALJ's holding, as it is proper to impute liability to an employer for statements of a supervisor.

To read the full text of the opinion, please click here.

Panel: Chief Judge Traxler; Judges Keenan and Harwell.

Date of Issued Opinion: 10/8/14

Docket Number: 11-236

Decided: Petition for review granted in part and denied in part; cross-application for enforcement granted in part and denied in part.

Case Alert Author: Alexandra A. Stulpin, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

John J. Coleman, III, Marcel L. Debruge, BURR & FORMAN LLP, Birmingham, Alabama, for Gestamp South Carolina, L.L.C. Stuart F. Delery, Assistant Attorney General, Beth S. Brinkmann, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Douglas N. Letter, Scott R. McIntosh, Melissa N. Patterson, Benjamin M. Shultz, Dara S. Smith, Attorneys, Appellate Staff, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C.; Richard F. Griffin, Jr., General Counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, Deputy General Counsel, John H. Ferguson, Associate General Counsel, Linda Dreeben, Deputy Associate General Counsel, Usha Dheenan, Supervisory Attorney, NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, Washington, D.C., for the Board.

Author of Opinion: Chief Judge Traxler

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor:
Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 01/14/2015 12:51 PM     4th Circuit  

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