Federal Update: NLRB Cases on Hold; 2012 Decisions Uncertain; Obama Makes Key Federal Circuit Appointments

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In Noel Canning v. NLRB, No. 12-1115 (D.C. Cir. Jan. 25, 2013), the D.C. Circuit Court ruled that President Obama lacked the authority to make three recess appointments to the five-member National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The recess appointments were deemed unconstitutional, leaving the NLRB with only one board member — two short of the three required to make a quorum and allow the NLRB to function. At least 30 workplace disputes pending before the NLRB are now in limbo.

Of greater consequence, Noel Canning potentially abrogates every NLRB decision since January of 2012, including: Costco Wholesale Corp., 358 NLRB No. 106 (Sept. 7, 2012) (employer’s “social media policy” prohibiting electronic postings that “damage the Company, defame any individual or damage any person’s reputation” held unlawful); Karl Knauz Motors, Inc., 358 NLRB No. 164 (Sept. 28, 2012) (employer’s rule prohibiting “disrespectful” language or “any other language which injures the image or reputation of” employer held unlawful); and Banner Health System, 358 NLRB No. 93 (July 30, 2012) (asking employee who was subject of an internal investigation to refrain from discussing matter violates the NLRA).  Also in question are D. R. Horton, Inc., 357 NLRB No. 184 (Jan. 3, 2012) and Convergys Corp., 2012 NLRB LEXIS 742 (Oct. 25, 2012), key pro-worker decisions finding class action waivers unconscionable.

Meanwhile, as his NLRB appointments are being assailed, President Obama has made two appointments to the Federal Circuit. Unique among the federal intermediate appellate courts, the Federal Circuit was established in 1982 pursuant to Article III of the Constitution, in order to effectuate the merger of the United States Court of Customs and Patent Appeals and the appellate division of the United States Court of Claims. The Federal Circuit’s jurisdiction covers patents and trademarks, but also takes the appeals of certain administrative agency decisions. Indeed, fully half of the Federal Circuit’s caseload is administrative law.

The president’s two most recent appointments, Raymond Chen and Todd Hughes, are notable in broadening the federal judiciary’s diversity. Hughes would be the first openly gay federal appeals court judge, while Chen would be the first Asian American to serve on the Federal Circuit in over 25 years.