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If it can reasonably be concluded that an employer's discriminatory conduct is inherently destructive of important employee rights, no proof of an antiunion motivation is needed and the National Labor Relations Board can find an unfair labor practice even if the employer introduces evidence that the conduct was motivated by business considerations. If the adverse effect of the discriminatory conduct on employee rights is comparatively slight, an antiunion motivation must be proved to sustain the charge if the employer has come forward with evidence of legitimate and substantial business justifications for the conduct. Thus, in either situation, once it has been proved that the employer engaged in discriminatory conduct which could have adversely affected employee rights to some extent, the burden is upon the employer to establish that he was motivated by legitimate objectives since proof of motivation is most accessible to him.
A union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, charging the employer with discrimination in terms and conditions of employment discouraging union membership, as well as with unlawful interference with protected activity, in violation of 8(a)(3) and (1) of the National Labor Relations Act. The charge was based on the employer's refusal to pay striking employees vacation benefits accrued under a terminated collective bargaining agreement, while announcing an intention to pay such benefits to striker replacements, returning strikers, and nonstrikers who had been at work on a certain date during the strike. The Board held that the employer had committed an unfair labor practice and ordered it to cease and desist therefrom, and to pay the accrued vacation benefits to strikers. On petition for enforcement of the order, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, although finding that discrimination had been proved, denied enforcement of the Board's order on the ground that there had been no affirmative showing of an unlawful anti-union motivation on the employer's part.
Did the district court err in refusing to enforce the Board’s order and holding that there was no proof of an anti-union motivation on the employer's part?
The Court reversed and enforced the Board's order. The Court held that the union's complaint stated an unfair labor practice charge and the Board was not deprived of jurisdiction merely because the employer's conduct might also have supported a lawsuit for breach of a collective bargaining agreement under 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act. In determining whether an employer's discriminatory conduct constituted an unfair labor practice under 8(a)(3) of the National Labor Relations Act, once it was proved that the employer engaged in discriminating conduct which could have adversely affected employee rights to some extent, the burden was on the employer to establish that it was motivated by legitimate objectives, and antiunion motivation had to be proved only if the employer came forward with evidence of legitimate and substantial business justifications for its conduct. The Board's finding of an unfair labor practice in the case at bar was supported by substantial evidence and should have been sustained notwithstanding the absence of proof of an antiunion motivation, since the employer had failed to present evidence of legitimate motives for its conduct, which had been proved to carry a potential for adverse effect on employee rights.