The Supreme Court has dismissed a case that was considered to be a major challenge to existing affirmative action guidelines at the federal level. Adarand v. Mineta challenged the federal government's efforts to address a history of racial discrimination in the awarding of highway construction contracts. The court stated in its decision that the case had not established its suitability as a plaintiff to challenge the federal program. Other similar cases are likely to be argued in the Supreme Court in subsequent years.
Source: The New York Times, November 28, 2001.
Harassment Policies vs. Union Organizing
Can non-coercive union organizing constitute harassment at work? Probably not, according to a recent decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The case involved employees who said that union organizers were forcing literature on them during their lunch break. They complained under a workplace harassment policy which stated, "Any unwelcome action, intended or not, which is considered offensive to the receiver or a third party may be labeled harassment." A disciplinary letter was placed in the union organizers' files.
The union organizers complained to the National Labor Relations Board that their rights had been violated, and the case ultimately went to court. Earlier this year, the Fourth Circuit ruled that union organizing is protected activity and employees cannot be disciplined for it under workplace harassment policies. Specifically, the court said that there would be nothing left of rights guaranteed under the Labor Act, if employees were subjected to discipline for exercising them.
The Labor Act does not immunize employees from disciplinary action entirely. However, in this case, the union supporters did nothing more than talk up the union with fellow employees. They did not use abusive language nor did they attempt to intimidate their co-workers in any way. They approached the other employees during non-work time, away from their work stations. Given these conditions, the court said that the fact employees "felt" harassed is not enough to impose discipline or even to investigate the matter.
This case underscores the need for organizations to write anti-harassment policies that are reasonable and enforceable. Union organizing is protected activity, under specific guidelines. Employers cannot create policies, related to harassment or anything else, that violate the laws of our country.
Source: Consolidated Diesel v. NLRB