Will Filing A Class Action Continue To Be Protected Concerted Activity?
The National Labor Relations Board will reconsider whether an employer can discipline an employee for the act of filing a class action, which has long been held to be protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act. Cordua Restaurants, Inc., 16-CA-161380 (Aug. 15, 2018) (Cordua II).
The Board, sua sponte, vacated its Decision and Order in Cordua Restaurants, Inc., 366 NLRB No. 72 (Apr. 26, 2018) (Cordua I). In that case, the NLRB found the employer had violated the Act when it fired a worker for filing a collective wage and hour lawsuit against the company. The decision was issued prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 584 U.S. __, 138 S. Ct. 1612 (2018), in which the Court ruled, 5-4, that class action waivers in employment arbitration agreements do not violate federal law.
In Cordua I, the NLRB (Members Mark Gaston Pearce, Lauren McFerran, and Marvin Kaplan formed the majority) held there was no dispute that the filing of the collective wage and hour lawsuit constituted protected concerted activity. The employer defended the termination, maintaining the employee was fired not because of his protected concerted activity, but because he attempted to steal employee wage information from confidential company files and lying about it during investigative interviews. The Board rejected the employer’s defense, noting that requests by employees for information relevant to Section 7 activities are protected, citing Faurecia Exhaust Systems, 355 NLRB 621, 622 (2010). That is the case even if the information is protected. However, the protection is lost if the information is sought or obtained surreptitiously. Ridgely Mfg. Co., 207 NLRB 193, 197 (1973), enfd. 510 F.2d 185 (D.C. Cir. 1975).
In Cordua II, an unpublished decision, Board Chairman John Ring and Members Kaplan and William Emanuel voted to vacate Cordua I, sua sponte. The Board held that it wants to “reconsider the entire proceeding.” The Board’s action signals the majority may hold that an employer may discipline an employee for the act of filing a class action.
Pearce and McFerran dissented, noting that nothing in Epic Systems Corp. warranted reopening the case since that Supreme Court decision addressed “the question of whether an employer’s maintenance of an arbitration agreement barring employees from bringing a collective action violated the Act,” whereas, in the instant case, the Board found the employer violated the Act by terminating an employee in response to his filing of a collective wage-and-hour lawsuit against the employer. Pearce and McFerran noted that it is “well settled that the filing of such a lawsuit constitutes protected concerted activity.”