The National Labor Relations Board released a decision Tuesday affirming an earlier 2013 ruling saying that Grand Canyon University wrongly fired an employee for talking about her working conditions. The ruling pertains to a case involving three former employees working in for-profit Grand Canyon’s “grad team,” which pursued “leads” on potential students to enroll in the university’s graduate programs in Christian studies and criminal justice. All three frequently discussed with each other, coworkers and their managers concerns about the quality of leads referred to them, the limited degree programs in which they were permitted to enroll students and the difficulty of meeting enrollment quotas, according to the decision.
They were fired in part for those conversations, which violated a clause in the university’s Employee Counseling Statement prohibiting employees from discussing with each other the terms and conditions of their employment. But the NLRB found in 2013 that the three employees had engaged in “protected concerted activity,” and that the university violated labor law by threatening to fire them for and interrogating them about their speech. (Grand Canyon is not unionized.) The labor board said that the university had only wrongly fired one employee, Gloria Johnson, however, because there seemed to be other, legitimate reasons for firing the other two employees.
Questions about that decision’s legitimacy arose as Grand Canyon filed an appeal when political opponents of President Obama challenged the constitutionality of two of his appointments to the NLRB during a three-day Congressional recess. After the appointment question was settled, the board considered the decision de novo and affirmed it. The NLRB has ordered Grand Canyon to stop threatening to fire employees who discuss their terms and conditions of employment, and to reinstate and “make whole” Johnson, among other things. Johnson could not immediately be reached for comment. Bob Romantic, a university spokesman, said via email that the NLRB "looked at four complaints from 2010, of which three were dismissed. Concerning the fourth complaint [Johnson], we are confident from our internal investigation that we did the right thing for the university and our students regarding a compliance violation by one of our employees. We are reviewing the NLRB’s decision and will consider all appropriate actions, including an appeal.” William A. Herbert, executive director of National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said the case was significant in that it explored the “scope” of what can be raised in interrogations of employees by reinforcing the rule that employers cannot interrogate employees about protected, concerted activities.
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