Decided: October 8, 2014
The Fourth Circuit held that the “recess session” appointment of a National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) member was valid under the U.S. Constitution. The Court also held that the General Counsel of the NLRB failed to establish a prima facie case that two Gestamp South Carolina, LLC (“Gestamp”) employees had been discharged in violation of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). Finally, the Court held that substantial evidence supported an Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) finding that a Gestamp supervisor had made a threat to one of the discharged employees for attempting to unionize.
David Kingsmore (“Kingsmore”) worked as a “quality inspector” and Reggie Alexander (“Alexander”) worked as a “supply coordinator” for Gestamp until both were fired in late February of 2010. Prior to being fired, Kingsmore had contacted United Steelworkers (“the union”) about unionizing Gestamp’s hourly employees. Alexander eventually joined Kingsmore on a small committee of Gestamp employees to explore unionization. Supervisors for the two employees were aware of the committee, and Kingsmore’s supervisor warned him that he would be “gone” for attempting to unionize. Shortly thereafter, Alexander was fired for falsifying one day on his timesheet. He failed to correct a discrepancy between when the company system automatically signed him in, and the time he actually arrived—a period of thirty-eight minutes. Meanwhile, Kingsmore had been denied access to a nearby BMW facility, which also happened to be his former employer, while making a trip to the facility on behalf of Gestamp. This incident prompted an inquiry in to whether Kingsmore had been truthful when he told Gestamp that his employment at BMW had ended on amicable terms. After Kingsmore was unable to explain why he was banned from the BMW facility, he was fired from Gestamp for “falsification of work history” and failure to present documentation from his previous employer.
First, the Court reasoned that the recess appointment of a NLRB board member was constitutional because it occurred during a two-week Senate recess. The Recess Appointment Clause gives the President power to fill vacancies during a Senate recess. Although the Supreme Court had previously held that a recess of less than ten days was presumptively not long enough, a two-week recess, according to the Court, was adequately long to fall within the Recess Clause.
Next, the Court reasoned that neither Kingsmore nor Alexander had been discharged from Gestamp in violation of the NLRA because neither was able to carry his burden of proving that the Gestamp employee who fired both of them did so with knowledge of their union activity. The Court rejected Kingsmore and Alexander’s assertion that the requisite knowledge of their union activity could be automatically imputed to that Gestamp employee merely because Kingsmore and Alexander’s supervisors were aware of their union activity.
Finally, the Court upheld the ALJ’s ruling that Kingsmore had been threatened for his union activities because there was “substantial evidence” presented to the ALJ that he was threatened, and that a qualified “supervisor” (as defined in the NLRA) made the threat. Gestamp appealed this ruling because the ALJ’s decision was based largely on Kingsmore’s testimony, and the ALJ had already determined that his testimony was “not fully reliable[.]” Further, the ALJ had determined that a Gestamp employee who testified on this issue was credible. However, that Gestamp employee admitted that he did not remember certain facts. Ultimately, the Court found that the ALJ’s decision as a whole was not so inconsistent with the testimony as to warrant reversal.
James Bull Sterling