Supreme Court Sides With Starbucks In Labor Dispute

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The Supreme Court sided with Starbucks on Thursday in a labor dispute over reinstating workers.

The justices rejected a lower court ruling approving an injunction sought by the National Labor Relations Board, which would have required Starbucks to reinstate seven workers who were fired after they tried to unionize and invited a television crew into the store to broadcast their effort. The ruling backs a stricter standard for evaluating the NLRB’s requests for orders against companies.

“There is an obvious difference between having the Board show that it is ‘likely’ to succeed on the merits and having it show only that its theory of the case is ‘substantial and not frivolous,’ without having to convince the court that its theory is likely meritorious,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the court’s opinion. “In fact, it is hard to imagine how the Board could lose under the reasonable-cause test if courts deferentially ask only whether the Board offered a minimally plausible legal theory, while ignoring conflicting law or facts.”

The NLRB, which can bring its own enforcement proceedings against employers, is also able to petition in federal court for a preliminary injunction while its proceedings are ongoing.

“We hold that district courts must apply the traditional four factors articulated in Winter when considering the Board’s requests for a preliminary injunction under §10(j),” Thomas wrote. (RELATED: Union Activists End Bid To Hijack Starbucks Board After Negotiating ‘Progress’)


A view of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, June 13, 2024. The Court on June 13 rejected restrictions imposed by a lower court on an abortion pill widely used in the US to terminate pregnancies. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Seven justices joined Thomas’ majority opinion in full, with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson concurring in part and dissenting in part.

“Many federal courts have improperly deferred to NLRB’s litigating positions for decades, allowing the agency to punish businesses with costly injunctions even if the preponderance of evidence indicates no wrongdoing occurred,” New Civil Liberties Alliance Litigation Counsel Sheng Li said in a statement. “Today, the Supreme Court corrects this injustice and reminds lower courts that their obligation to exercise independent judgment precludes them from taking the easy way out by deferring to agencies.”

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