Sometimes It’s Not What You Say But How You Say It

A recent First Circuit opinion demonstrates that sometimes how you say something is more important that what you say.  In fact, that principle led the court to reverse the NLRB’s order that a Massachusetts hospital must rehire a former employee.

New hire Camille Legley made quite an impression on his first day of work at Good Samaritan.  The facts are in dispute, but they center on the union’s portion of new-employee orientation.  Legley believed union delegate Darlene Lavigne stated, incorrectly, that employees were required to join the union, so he repeatedly challenged the statement.  Darlene later testified that Legley was rude and overbearing (which he denied) and that his behavior at the meeting upset and intimidated her.  At the end of the meeting, Legley completed an application to join the union.  Witnesses, including both union officials and hospital employees, testified that when Darlene later recounted Legley’s behavior at the meeting, she choked up and cried.

The hospital fired Legley.  The HR manager testified that the cause was his “inappropriate behavior” in violation of the hospital’s workplace civility policy.  When Legley filed a complaint with the NLRB, the ALJ concluded that the hospital and union had violated the NLRA by firing Legley for making protected comments.  The NLRB agreed.

The First Circuit saw it differently.  In the court’s view, the evidence showed that the hospital was motivated by how Legley behaved—his abusive and disrespectful manner–rather than the admittedly protected content of his statements.  The court ruled in favor of the hospital and union, denying the NLRB’s request for enforcement.

 

The cases are Good Samaritan Med. Center v. NLRB, Case Nos. 15-1347 and 15-1412, and NLRB v. SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, Case Nos. 15-1877 and 15-1941 (1St Cir., May 31, 2017).

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