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Region 22 Wins Administrative Law Judge Decision Ordering Joint-Employer in New Jersey to Reinstate and Pay Backpay to Unlawfully Fired Employee

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On Monday, October 27th, Administrative Law Judge Kenneth Chu issued a decision finding that ColArt Americas, Inc. (ColArt) and Staff Management Group, LLC (SMG), acting in their capacity as joint-employers, violated the Act by threatening employees with reprisals if they spoke to each other about workplace conditions including racism—and by discharging an employee in retaliation for his concerted complaints to ColArt about these issues and his threats to file a charge with the NLRB.

ColArt manufactures and sells art materials, and SMG is one of several staffing agencies that provides temporary workers for ColArt’s warehouse in Piscataway, New Jersey, where bulk and online orders are assembled and shipped.

Region 22 asserted in the Complaint and ALJ Chu found that a manager’s directive during a staff meeting to follow the chain of command in complaining about workplace conditions had a chilling effect on employees’ right under Section 7 of the Act to discuss these issues with each other, especially since the statement directly followed the manager’s assertion that employees’ complaints about racism were unfounded. ALJ Chu also found that the manager’s statement during the same meeting that there would be “a problem” if employees spoke to each other about workplace conditions was a direct threat of unspecified reprisals in violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the Act.

ALJ Chu further found that the employee’s complaints about the removal of chairs from some employee workstations, mistreatment of employees, and racism, although made individually, were concerted because they were aimed at initiating and inducing group action. ALJ Chu also found that the employers’ termination of the employee was motivated by his protected concerted complaints and his threats to file a charge with the NLRB, noting the close timing between the complaints and the discharge, and because the employers’ asserted reasons for the discharge were false.

Finally, ALJ Chu found that Respondents were jointly liable for the unlawful termination. He recommended they be ordered to reinstate the employee and make him whole for any loss of earnings suffered due to the unlawful conduct.

“This decision illustrates the Act’s promise to protect employees who engage in self-organization and to engage in concerted activities for their mutual aid and protection,” said Region 22 Regional Director Suzanne Sullivan.  “Employees who use their voice to bring their workplace concerns to the attention of their employers should always be able to do so without fear of reprisal or any employment-related retribution.”

Established in 1935, the National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency that protects employees, employers, and unions from unfair labor practices and protects the right of private sector employees to join together, with or without a union, to improve wages, benefits and working conditions. The NLRB conducts hundreds of workplace elections and investigates thousands of unfair labor practice charges each year. Region 22 serves areas in New Jersey from its Regional Office in Newark.