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Biden Judge Upholds Finding of Discrimination and Labor Law Violations Against Corporations

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News & Analysis

Judge Cindy Chung, nominated by President Biden to the Third Circuit court of appeals, wrote a unanimous decision upholding a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling against two corporations for firing an employee because of complaints of racism and committing other labor law violations. The February 2024 decision was in Colart Americas Inc. v NLRB.


What is the background of this case?

John Hargrove was employed by Staff Management Group Inc. (SMG), a temporary staffing agency that assigned him to work at Colart Americas Inc.’s distribution center in New Jersey. A supervisor acknowledged to Hargrove and other employees that they had concerns about “racism and mistreatment” on the job. The supervisor stated, however, that employees should “follow the chain of command” about complaints and warned that there would “be a problem” if they talked about such complaints among themselves instead.

Hargrove nevertheless raised complaints about “racism” on the job and indicated he would likely raise the issue with the NLRB. Colart then fired Hargrove. The NLRB investigated the matter. It concluded that the corporations had violated the law because of the supervisor’s statements that interfered with employees’ rights and the firing of Hargrove for raising complaints about racism and working conditions as well as threatening to go to the NLRB. Colart and SMG sought to reverse the NLRB ruling in the Third Circuit.


How Did Judge Chung and the Third Circuit Rule and Why Is It Important?

Judge Chung wrote a unanimous decision upholding and enforcing the NLRB ruling against Colart and SMG. Chung carefully reviewed the record in the case and rejected the corporations’ claim that the NLRB’s ruling was not based on substantial evidence. Based on prior precedent, she concluded that the actions of the supervisor “can constitute interference” with employees’ rights and that “substantial evidence supported” the NLRB decision.

Judge Chung also rejected the corporations’ claim that Hargrove’s complaints were nothing more than individual “gripes.” She agreed with the NLRB finding that they related to “group action in the interest of the employees” in general. The “group nature of the interests” raised, she went on, is “not negated” by the fact that Hargrove also raised individual concerns.

Judge Chung’s decision was obviously important to the efforts of John Hargrove and other employees to get justice from Colart and SMG. The ruling also sets an important precedent about upholding NLRB findings of improper discrimination and other labor practices by corporations. This is particularly true in the Third Circuit, which includes New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. The ruling also serves as a reminder of the importance of promptly confirming fair-minded nominees like Judge Chung to our federal courts.