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4th Circuit Affirms Injunction Requiring Offers Of Employment To Union Workers

Published by on July 6, 2009

In Gary Muffley v. Spartan Mining Company, et al., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed an order of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia requiring the defendant employer to offer employment to persons it refused to hire because of union affiliation while denying additional injunctive relief […]

In Gary Muffley v. Spartan Mining Company, et al., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed an order of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia requiring the defendant employer to offer employment to persons it refused to hire because of union affiliation while denying additional injunctive relief sought by the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”).  More after the break.

A.T. Massey Coal Company, the parent company of Spartan Mining Company, acquired the assets of Cannelton Industries and Dunn Coal and Dock (Cannelton/Dunn) in a bankruptcy.  Spartan Mining does business as Mammoth Coal Company (Mammoth).  After Massey assigned these assets to Mammoth, the subsidiary took over operation of the mining facilities on the Cannelton/Dunn property.  Mammoth interviewed and hired most of the non-bargaining unit employees.  In contrast, interviews and offers were not extended to laborers who were members of United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).  Mammoth hired inexperienced employees from its nearby property, in spite of labor shortages there as well.  UMWA filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB.  After investigation, the General Counsel filed a complaint with the Board against Mammoth for violating the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

After an extensive 16-day evidentiary proceeding regarding the complaint, an administrative law judge (ALJ) found Mammoth had violated the NLRA.  According to the ALJ, Mammoth violated §§ 8(a)(1) and 8(a)(3) of the NLRA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 158(a)(1), (3), by “discriminatorily refusing to hire union employees of Cannelton/Dunn in order to avoid obligation to recognize and bargain with the union.”  There was support for prima facie discrimination, including circumstantial evidence and overt anti-union statements by Mammoth officials.

The ALJ order included broad relief, immediate employment offers and back pay for discriminatees, recognition and bargaining with the union, rescission of unilateral changes to employment terms and conditions, and remission of all wages and benefits Mammoth would have paid absent discrimination.  Both sides filed exceptions to the recommended order and the matter remains before the Board.

In the interim, the Board sought temporary injunctive relief under § 10(j) of the NLRA, which provides the Board a means to seek a court order temporarily enjoining asserted unfair labor practices.  Due to problems meeting its quorum of three members, the Board delegated powers to its General Counsel.  For personal reasons, the General Counsel recused himself and delegated his power to the Deputy General Counsel. 

After an evidentiary hearing, the district court found that limited injunctive relief was “just and proper” under § 10(j).  The court relief granted in part and denied in part, relief requested by the Board.  It ordered Mammoth to order employment to the alleged discriminatee employees, but it refused to order Mammoth to recognize and bargain with the union, post notices of the district court’s order throughout the workplace, or rescind any unilaterally imposed employment conditions.  The court found these additional measures unnecessary to preserve the Board’s remedial powers in the case.  Both sides appealed.

While the appeals were pending, Mammoth moved for a stay of the district court’s order that it offer employment to the alleged discriminatee employees.  Before the court could act on the motion, the company withdrew the motion.  After offering positions to all the discriminatees, it had been able to hire all who sought employment without terminating any employees.

Mammoth made three arguments regarding the district court holding.  First, the company argued that neither the district court nor the appeals court could decide the case because the Board improperly delegated the power for § 10(j) relief to its General Counsel.  Secondly, Mammoth asserted that the district court committed reversible error in applying an improper standard in deciding whether to grant the § 10(j) injunction.  Finally, they contended that even if the reversal (of the second argument) was not required, the district court abused its discretion in granting the Board injunctive relief.

The Court of Appeals upheld the District Court on all three points.  First, it found that the Board may lawfully delegate § 10(j) authority to the General Counsel pursuant to § 3(d) of the NLRA.  Secondly, using the four-factor equitable test of Weinberger v. Romero-Barcelo, 456 U.S. 305 (1982), the appeals court sided with the district court.  The Fourth Circuit found that no language in § 10(j) compelled a departure from the traditional four-part test for equitable relief.  Finally, the appeals court agreed with the district court’s discretion in granting limited § 10(j) relief.

In addressing the Board’s cross-appeal, the appeals court found no error in the district court holding.  The district court awarded limited injunctive relief to the Board and denied further injunctive relief.  The § 10(j) relief only “authorizes interim injunctive relief ‘reasonably necessary to preserve the ultimate remedial power of the Board and is not to be a substitute for the exercise of that power.'”

Contributed by K.C. Osuji

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