Medeco Sec. Locks, Inc. v. N.L.R.B., s. 96-2803

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Citation142 F.3d 733
Docket NumberNos. 96-2803,97-1116,s. 96-2803
Decision Date29 April 1998

Page 733

142 F.3d 733
158 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2065, 135 Lab.Cas. P 10,151
Nos. 96-2803, 97-1116.
United States Court of Appeals,
Fourth Circuit.
Argued Oct. 29, 1997.
Decided April 29, 1998.

Page 737

ARGUED: Clinton Stephen Morse, Flippin, Densmore, Morse, Rutherford & Jessee, Roanoke, VA, for Petitioner. Richard A. Cohen, N.L.R.B., Washington, DC, for Respondent. ON BRIEF: Todd A. Leeson, Flippin, Densmore, Morse, Rutherford & Jessee, Roanoke, VA, for Petitioner. Frederick L. Feinstein, Gen. Counsel, Linda Sher, Associate Gen. Counsel, Aileen A. Armstrong, Deputy Associate Gen. Counsel, N.L.R.B., Washington, DC, for Respondent.

Before WILKINSON, Chief Judge, and RUSSELL * and MICHAEL, Circuit Judges.

Enforcement granted in part, denied in part by published opinion. Judge MICHAEL wrote the opinion, in which Chief Judge WILKINSON joined.


MICHAEL, Circuit Judge:

Medeco Security Locks, Inc. petitions this court to review a decision and order of the National Labor Relations Board, and the Board cross-petitions for enforcement of its order. The Board's decision affirmed the administrative law judge's ruling that Medeco had (1) violated § 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act by prohibiting employees from discussing certain employment matters and (2) twice violated § 8(a)(1) and § 8(a)(3), first by transferring William C. Folden to a second-shift position and second by subsequently firing Folden. We conclude that there were three independent violations of § 8(a)(1). On the other hand, we believe there was a lack of substantial evidence to support the Board's determination that anti-union animus motivated the personnel decisions affecting Folden. Accordingly, we grant the Board's cross-petition for enforcement as to § 8(a)(1) but deny enforcement as to § 8(a)(3).


Medeco operates a Salem, Virginia, plant where it manufactures and distributes precision locks. In 1993 the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine, and Furniture Workers, AFL-CIO (the "Union") attempted to unionize the employees at Medeco. The Union collected enough union cards to bring about an election, but on March 22, 1993, a majority of Medeco's employees voted against unionization.

After this election Medeco made several company wide changes aimed at providing its employees an alternative to unionization. Medeco's new employee handbook explained in May 1993 that "[w]e are a non-union company and we want to stay that way. We feel our union-free status is a benefit to [our employees] ... [and] we intend to oppose unionization by every proper and legal means and by the equitable treatment of all individuals." Medeco began initiatives to emphasize team building, employee participation, and an open-door complaint policy to address employee concerns. It also hired Dennis Taggert in August 1993 as a new vice-president of human relations and promoted Diane Ward, a rank-and-file employee, to the position of human relations manager in November 1993. Ward's office was located in the center of the production floor to make her readily accessible to employees who wished

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to discuss or mention concerns about employment.

The next year, in January of 1994, the Union began another campaign to unionize Medeco. As expected, the company responded by mounting an aggressive anti-unionization campaign. Medeco held a series of meetings with its employees, showed anti-union films that depicted union violence, posted various signs opposing unionization, and instructed its managers to ask employees not to sign union cards. This time, perhaps because of the company's effort, the Union was not able to obtain enough cards to petition for an election. 1

In 1994 Medeco employees William C. Folden and Louis Rickman were subject to several adverse employment actions. Folden was ultimately fired in late May, and Rickman quit in November. Medeco's treatment of these employees and the company's alleged anti-union motivations are the subject of this proceeding.


William C. Folden began working for Medeco in 1976 and remained with the company until he was terminated on May 27, 1994. During the 1993 organizing effort, Folden was a highly visible and active union supporter. He attended union meetings, served as a union representative in observing the election, and was one of the more outspoken advocates of unionization. Folden admits that he wore a pro-union cap and was not shy about his union support. Once Medeco began to change its policies after the 1993 campaign, however, Folden told his supervisor, Steve Bullock, that he was not interested in any more organizational activity with the union. Specifically, when the 1994 union drive was about to begin, Folden told Bullock that he (Folden) was "very positive about the change that was going on" at Medeco and that he "didn't feel the need for[the union] any more." In addition, human relations manager Ward testified that Folden told her that he had been active in the 1993 union effort "but that this year [1994] he wasn't, he didn't want any part of it." Folden did not have a clear recollection of this conversation.

Folden nevertheless had some participation in the 1994 union campaign. When compared to his role in the 1993 campaign, however, his involvement in 1994 was minimal. Folden first testified that he "[j]ust attended the meeting[s]." He later added that he "received some signed [union] cards" in Medeco's parking lot, but any part he played in taking cards appears to have been quite minimal. He acknowledged that these acts constituted the "extent of [his] involvement" in 1994.

By early 1994 Folden was serving, as a representative from the Quality Control Department, on a "cross-functional team" organized by Medeco. The team was composed of a cross-section of employees who met weekly with management to discuss topics of concern and interest to employees. During one of the team's meetings on February 4, 1994, the team's normal chairwoman (a manager) was absent and Norma Doudy, a non-management employee in the accounting department, stood in as her replacement. Doudy explained that she would be reporting to Medeco's president about the meeting. At one point during the meeting, Doudy asked Folden how the union drive was going and whether there were enough cards for a petition. Thereafter, Folden went to Bullock and told him that he (Folden) "didn't think [a team meeting] was the proper time or place to discuss those topics." Bullock agreed and said that he would advise Doudy that her questions about the union drive were inappropriate. During this conversation Bullock asked why employees wanted a union. In a brief response, Folden told him that there were several reasons, including favoritism and the lack of fair treatment.

Bullock had joined Medeco in August 1993 as manager of the Quality Control (QC) Department. His management style reflected

Page 739

Medeco's "Team Concept" and its commitment to employee participation. Bullock soon established three skill levels for the quality inspectors in the QC Department, with level III being the most skilled. The job descriptions associated with each skill level were developed with input from the QC employees, and in January 1994 the employees were allowed to choose their own skill level based on their own assessment of their capabilities. Of the ten QC inspectors, Folden and two others rated themselves at level III, while the rest selected level II.

Bullock also required that all QC employees pass a Geometric Dimension and Tolerance (GD & T) exam, which would test their ability to interpret engineering drawings. To prepare them for the GD & T test, Bullock provided books and access to instructional videos that the employees could use on their own time. Because Bullock felt that "it would be difficult for the group to complete[the test] without some instruction," he also taught a series of classes on the exam over several weeks and made himself available to answer questions. Folden attended these classes but illness caused him to miss the last two sessions, in which course materials were reviewed in preparation for the exam. Folden took the test on April 7, 1994, and scored a 68.5 percent.

Because Bullock had promised that the team as a whole would participate in making decisions, he told them before the test that they would decide the passing grade. Once the QC inspectors knew their scores, they held a meeting and voted to make 70 percent the passing score. Folden's score of 68.5 was the lowest in the group, and he was the only one who did not pass.

At this point the testimony diverges. Folden claims Bullock told him that he (Bullock) would schedule another GD & T exam in the next few weeks, while Bullock claims that he told Folden to retake the exam within the next five days. It is undisputed, however, that on April 20 Bullock met with Folden to discuss the retaking of the exam. In this meeting Bullock had Folden sign a memorandum that restated Bullock's version of their previous discussions on the subject. Additionally, the memorandum stated that Folden was to retake the GD & T exam by April 23 and score at least 80 percent in order to maintain his level III classification. Regardless of how well Folden might do, the memo provided that he would "be the lowest qualified in the level III classification" because of his "need to retake [the exam] and [the] additional time allowed." Finally the memo included the following "confidentiality statement":

This conversation between Steve Bullock ... and Billy Folden ... in regards to Billy's performance ... and the corrective action that must take place no later than April 23, 1994 is strictly confidential. Any sharing of this information with any other member(s) of Team Medeco will be...

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