A licensed practical nurse was fired after she complained to her boss at a pharmaceutical research firm that other employees were receiving special treatment. The Board found the employer violated the National Labor Relations Act by firing the employee to prevent her from talking about her complaints of favoritism with co-workers.
Parexel International conducts research for pharmaceutical companies at its Baltimore, Maryland location. Its staff includes a number of individuals from South Africa. When Theresa N., a licensed practical nurse for the company, received information from a co-worker that led her to believe that the employees from South Africa were receiving special treatment, she complained to her direct supervisor. The next day, Theresa was called into the office by a Human Resources official and the Manager of Clinical Operations, who is also from South Africa, to discuss the “rumor” she had mentioned.
In the meeting, Theresa explained that a co-worker, who was South African, told her that he received a raise when he was re-hired by the company and that his wife would also receive a raise when she was re-hired. Theresa expressed concern that the company was paying the employees from South Africa higher wages and the manager of clinical operations would continue favoring these employees. Theresa was then asked if she had discussed the conversation she had with her co-worker with anyone else besides her supervisor. Theresa said she had not. The next week, Theresa was fired.
Theresa filed a charge about her termination with the NLRB’s Regional Office in Baltimore. After an investigation, a Complaint issued and a hearing was held on the matter. The judge’s decision was reviewed by the Board in Washington, D.C., which found the termination unlawful, as the evidence indicated the company fired Theresa as a way to prevent her from discussing her concerns of favoritism with her co-workers. The Board held that a “pre-emptive” termination to keep an employee from discussing wages, hours, or working conditions with other employees is unlawful, even if the employee had not yet engaged in protected activity. As part of its decision, the Board ordered that Theresa be reinstated with full backpay.
The employer appealed the Board decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which appointed a mediator to the case. With the mediator's help, the parties reached a settlement under which Parexel agreed not to discharge employees to prevent them from engaging in protected concerted activities and to pay Theresa about $250,000 for back wages and medical expenses. In the agreement, Theresa declined reinstatement.