In the world of employment law, plaintiffs bringing suit against their employers for discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and wrongful termination are commonplace. The overwhelming majority of these types of cases are brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and fall under the jurisdiction of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,EEOC. However, plaintiffs also have the ability to bring certain types of cases against their employers under the National Labor Relations Act, NLRA, which is under the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board, NLRB. In many cases, an employer discriminating against an employee can be in violation of both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the NLRA.
The NLRB is an independent federal agency enforcing the National Labor Relations Act, which Congress enacted in 1935. The NLRA was created to protect employees by guaranteeing the right of most private sector employees to organize, to engage in group efforts to improve their wages and working conditions, to determine whether to have unions as their bargaining representative, to engage in collective bargaining, and to refrain from any of these activities. However, what is not common knowledge is that the NLRB protects non-union workers in the same manner as it does union workers. Furthermore, when an employer violates the NLRA by terminating an employee for actions protected and ensured by the NLRA, an employee can then bring suit against the employer by filing a NLRB charge.
Specifically, claims of wrongful termination can violate the NLRA if an employee is terminated for what the NLRB deems protected concerted activity. Examples of this type of protected activity include employees’ right to band together with coworkers to improve their lives at work, acting with coworkers to address work-related issues such as wages and benefits or other working conditions, circulating a petition asking for better hours, participating in a concerted refusal to work in unsafe conditions, and joining with coworkers to talk directly to their employer, to a government agency, or to the media about problems in the workplace. All of these activities are protected by the NLRA and enforced by the NLRB, and employers cannot discharge, discipline, or threaten employees for, or coercively question employees about, this “protected concerted” activity.
At Coane and Associates, PLLC, we are currently representing multiple clients whose employers allegedly violated both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the NLRA by first discriminating against them in some way, and subsequently retaliating against them for complaints of discrimination by terminating them for engaging in activities that are protected by the NLRA. For example, we have both an EEOC and NLRB charge pending against a Houston company for maybe first violating Title VII by engaging in national origin discrimination against our client, and then violating the NLRA by terminating our client for discussing a disciplinary write up with a co-worker, an action that is protected under the NLRA. This action by the employer is a wrongful termination because an employee cannot be terminated for engaging in activities that are protected by the NLRA, even if those activities go against an employer’s policies. Many employees do not realize that they are protected by the NLRA because they mistakenly believe its for union members only.