National Labor Relations Board v. Weingarten, Inc 8212 1363, No. 73

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBRENNAN
Citation420 U.S. 251,43 L.Ed.2d 171,95 S.Ct. 959
Docket NumberNo. 73
Decision Date19 February 1975
PartiesNATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, Petitioner, v. J. WEINGARTEN, INC. —1363

420 U.S. 251
95 S.Ct. 959
43 L.Ed.2d 171
NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, Petitioner,

v.

J. WEINGARTEN, INC.

No. 73—1363.
Argued Nov. 18, 1974.
Decided Feb. 19, 1975.

Syllabus

During the course of an investigatory interview at which an employee of respondent was being interrogated by a representative of respondent about reported thefts at respondent's store, the employee asked for but was denied the presence at the interview of her union representative. The union thereupon filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In accordance with its construction in Mobil Oil Corp., 196 N.L.R.B. 1052, enforcement denied, 7 Cir., 482 F.2d 842, and Quality Mfg. Co., 195 N.L.R.B. 197, enforcement denied, 4 Cir., 481 F.2d 1018. rev'd, 420 U.S. 276, 95 S.Ct. 972, 43 L.Ed.2d 189, the NLRB held that the employer had committed an unfair labor practice and issued a cease-and-desist order, which, however, the Court of Appeals subsequently refused to enforce, concluding that an employee has no 'need' for union assistance at an investigatory interview. Held: The employer violated § 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act because it interfered with, restrained, and coerced the individual right of an employee, protected by § 7, 'to engage in . . . concerted activities for . . . mutual aid or protection . . .,' when it denied the employee's request for the presence of her union representative at the investigatory interview that the employee reasonably believed would result in disciplinary action. Pp. 256-268.

(a) The NLRB's holding is a permissible construction of 'concerted activities for . . . mutual aid or protection' by the agency charged by Congress with enforcement of the Act. Pp. 260-264.

(b) The NLRB has the 'special function of applying the general provisions of the Act to the complexities of industrial life,' NLRB v. Erie Resistor Corp., 373 U.S. 221, 236, 83 S.Ct. 1139, 1149, 10 L.Ed.2d 308, and its special competence in this field is the justification for the deference accorded its determination. Pp. 264-267.

485 F.2d 1135, reversed and remanded.

Page 252

Patrick H. Hardin, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Neil Martin, Houston, Tex., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The National Labor Relations Board held in this case that respondent employer's denial of an employee's request that her union representative be present at an investigatory interview which the employee reasonably believed might result in disciplinary action constituted an unfair labor practice in violation of § 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act,1 as amended, 61 Stat. 140, because it interfered with, restrained, and coerced the individual right of the employee, protected by § 7 of the Act, 'to engage in . . . concerted activities for . . . mutual aid or protection . . ..'2 202 N.L.R.B. 446 (1973).

Page 253

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that this was an impermissible construction of § 7 and refused to enforce the Board's order that directed respondent to cease and desist from requiring any employee to take part in an investigatory interview without union representation if the employee requests representation and reasonably fears disciplinary action. 485 F.2d 1135 (1973).3 We granted certiorari and set the case for oral argument with No. 73—765, Garment Workers v. Quality Mfg. Co., 420 U.S. 276, 95 S.Ct. 972, 43 L.Ed.2d 416 U.S. 969, 94 S.Ct. 1990, 40 L.Ed.2d 557 (1974). We reverse.

Page 254

I

Respondent operates a chain of some 100 retail stores with lunch counters at some, and so-called lobby food operations at others, dispensing food to take out or eat on the rpemises. Respondent's sales personnel are represented for collective-bargaining purposes by Retail Clerks Union, Local 455. Leura Collins, one of the sales personnel, worked at the lunch counter at Store No. 2 from 1961 to 1970 when she was transferred to the lobby operation at Store No. 98. Respondent maintains a companywide security department staffed by 'Loss Prevention Specialists' who work undercover in all stores to guard against loss from shoplifting and employee dishonesty. In June 1972, 'Specialist' Hardy, without the knowledge of the store manager, spent two days observing the lobby operation at Store No. 98 investigating a report that Collins was taking money from a cash register. When Hardy's surveillance of Collins at work turned up no evidence to support the report, Hardy disclosed his presence to the store manager and reported that he could find nothing wrong. The store manager then told him that a fellow lobby employee of Collins had just reported that Collins had purchased a box of chicken that sold for $2.98, but had placed only $1 in the cash register. Collins was summoned to an interview with Specialist Hardy and the store manager, and Hardy questioned her. The Board found that several times during the questioning she asked the store manager to call the union shop steward or some other union representative to the interview, and that her requests were denied. Collins admitted that she had purchased some chicken, a loaf of bread, and some cake which she said she paid for and donated to her church for a church dinner. She expalined that she purchased four pieces of chicken for which the price was $1, but that because the lobby department

Page 255

was out of the small-size boxes in which such purchases were usually packaged she put the chicken into the larger box normally used for packaging larger quantities. Specialist Hardy left the interview to check Collins' explanation with the fellow employee who had reported Collins. This employee confirmed that the lobby department had run out of small boxes and also said that she did not know how many pieces of chicken Collins had put in the larger box. Specialist Hardy returned to the interview, told Collins that her explanation had checked out, that he was sorry if he had inconvenienced her, and that the matter was closed.

Collins thereupon burst into tears and blurted out that the only thing she had ever gotton from the store without paying for it was her free lunch. This revelation surprised the store manager and Hardy because, although free lunches had been provided at Store No. 2 when Collins worked at the lunch counter there, company policy was not to provide free lunches at stores operating lobby departments. In consequence, the store manager and Specialist Hardy closely interrogated Collins about violations of the policy in the lobby department at Store No. 98. Collins again asked that a shop steward be called to the interview, but the store manager denied her request. Based on her answers to his questions, Specialist Hardy prepared a written statement which included a computation that Collins owed the store approximately $160 for lunches. Collins refused to sign the statement. The Board found that Collins, as well as most, if not all, employees in the lobby department of Store No. 98, including the manager of that department, took lunch from the lobby without paying for it, apparently because no contrary policy was ever made known to them. Indeed, when company headquarters advised Specialist Hardy by telephone during the interview that

Page 256

headquarters itself was uncertain whether the policy against providing free lunches at lobby departments was in effect at Store No. 98, he terminated his interrogation of Collins. The store manager asked Collins not to discuss the matter with anyone because he considered it a private matter between her and the company, of no concern to others. Collins, however, reported the details of the interview fully to her shop steward and other union representatives, and this unfair labor practice proceeding resulted.4

II

The Board's construction that § 7 creates a statutory right in an employee to refuse to submit without union representation to an interview which he reasonably fears may result in his discipline was announced in its decision and order of January 28, 1972, in Quality Mfg. Co., 195 N.L.R.B. 197, considered in Garment Workers v. Quality Mfg. Co., 420 U.S. 276, 95 S.Ct. 972, 43 L.Ed.2d 189. In its opinions in that case and in Mobil Oil Corp., 196 N.L.R.B. 1052, decided May 12, 1972, three months later, the Board shaped the contours and limits of the statutory right.

First, the right inheres in § 7's guarantee of the right of employees to act in concert for mutual aid and protection. In Mobil Oil, the Board stated:

'An employee's right to union representation upon request is based on Section 7 of the Act which guarantees the right of employees to act in concert for

Page 257

'mutual aid and protection.' The denial of this right has a reasonable tendency to interfere with, restrain, and coerce employees in violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the Act. Thus, it is a serious violation of the employee's individual right to engage in concerted activity by seeking the assistance of his statutory representative if the employer denies the employee's request and compels the employee to appear unassisted at an interview which may put his job security in jeopardy. Such a dilution of the employee's right to act collectively to protect his job interests is, in our view, unwarranted interference with his right to insist on concerted protection, rather than individual self-protection, against possible adverse employer action.' Ibid.

Second, the right arises only in situations where the employee requests representation. In other words, the employee may forgo his guaranteed right and, if he prefers, participate in an interview unaccompanied by his union representative.

Third, the employee's right to request representation as a condition of participation in an interview is limited to situations where the employee reasonably believes the investigation will result in disciplinary action.5 Thus the Board stated in Quality:

'We would not apply the...

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