SCOTUS Clarifies Requirements for Obtaining Injunctive Relief Under the NLRA

By Joshua Waugh & Lex Shvartsmann
Barran Leibman LLP Law

June 18, 2024 — On June 13, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Starbucks Corporation v. McKinney, confirming the heightened standard the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) must meet to obtain a preliminary injunction against employers charged with unfair labor practices.

This decision stems from the discharge of some employees after they allegedly entered the store after-hours, opened the safe after-hours without authorization, brought third parties into the closed store, and hosted media interviews behind the bar promoting their unionization efforts. The NLRB, alleging the terminations were unfair labor practices, requested an injunction that would force Starbucks to reinstate the fired employees. Using a two-prong “reasonable cause” analysis, the District Court granted the NLRB’s request. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. Given the Circuit split on the appropriate injunction standard, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

The Supreme Court took issue with the highly deferential analysis used by the lower courts, under which the Court found it “hard to imagine how the [NLRB] could lose.” Under the test that the Sixth Circuit affirmed, the NLRB needed only to show that there was reasonable cause to believe that unfair labor practices occurred and that injunctive relief was just and proper.

Taking this case as an opportunity to clarify the proper analysis required to grant injunctive relief under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the Court confirmed the equitable principles set forth in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. in 2008. Under the clarified standard, the NLRB must meet a more stringent four-part test to secure injunctive relief. When seeking an injunction, the Board must clearly show:

(1) they are likely to succeed on the merits of the case;

(2) they are likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief;

(3) the balance of equities tips in their favor; and

(4) that an injunction is in the public interest.

This standard increases the burden on the NLRB to prove the need for preliminary injunctions and provides much needed guidance to the lower courts as to what that burden entails.

For questions on the National Labor Relations Act or labor law compliance, contact Joshua Waugh at 503-276-2138 or [email protected].

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