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Law School Case Brief

Emporium Capwell Co. v. W. Addition Cmty. Org. - 420 U.S. 50, 95 S. Ct. 977 (1975)


The first proviso to § 9(a) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), 29 U.S.C.S. § 159(a), states that any individual employee or a group of employees shall have the right at any time to present grievances to their employer and to have such grievances adjusted, without the intervention of the bargaining representative, as long as the adjustment is not inconsistent with the terms of a collective-bargaining contract or agreement then in effect. The intendment of the proviso is to permit employees to present grievances and to authorize the employer to entertain them without opening itself to liability for dealing directly with employees in derogation of the duty to bargain only with the exclusive bargaining representative, a violation of § 8 (a)(5) of the NLRA, 29 U.S.C.S. § 158(a)(5). The NLRA nowhere protects this "right" by making it an unfair labor practice for an employer to refuse to entertain such a presentation, nor can it be read to authorize resort to economic coercion.


The employer signed a collective bargaining agreement with the union. The agreement established grievance processes for claims of contract violations, including violations of an antidiscrimination clause. Some minority union employees initiated grievance procedures under the contract for racial discrimination, but ultimately several employees decided that the contract procedures were inadequate to handle the nature and depth of the grievance, so the employees picketed and instituted a boycott against the employer in an effort to engage in separate bargaining. After the employees were discharged, the local civil rights association filed suit with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that the employer violated § 8(a)(1) of the NLRA, 19 U.S.C.S. § 158(a)(1). The Board dismissed the complaint on the ground that the activities of the minority group were not protected by Title VII of the National Labor Relations Act (29 USCS 157), which entitled employees to engage in concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection. The lower court reversed the dismissal of the complaint. The employer appealed.


Were the activities of the minority group protected by Title VII of the National Labor Relations Act?




The Court held that the National Labor Relations Act did not protect concerted activity by a group of minority employees to bargain with their employer over issues of employment discrimination and these employees cannot circumvent their elected bargaining representative to engage in such bargaining. According to the Court, the employees' concerted activities to engage in separate bargaining could not be pursued at the expense of the orderly collective bargaining process contemplated by the NLRA. Even if the employer's conduct violated Title VII of Civil Rights Act of 1964, the conduct was not entitled to affirmative protection from the NLRA. Hence, the judgment was reversed.

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