BFV Perspectives, Navigating HR, | Jun 13, 2024

The U.S. Supreme Court Rules for Tougher 10(j) Injunction Standard

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a traditional four-factor test applies when the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) seeks a preliminary injunction instead of a lesser standard. As a result, the NLRB will have a harder time obtaining preliminary injunctions. The case is Starbucks Corporation v. M. Kathleen McKinney.

What is a Section 10(j) Injunction?

The NLRB is authorized to enforce labor law against employers and unions for engaging in unfair labor practices. Section 10(j) of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) authorizes the NLRB to seek a preliminary injunction from a federal district court while these administrative enforcement proceedings take place.

What Standard did the Court hold applies to Section 10(j) injunctions?

The Court upheld the application of the four-factor test in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U. S. 7 (2008). That standard requires a plaintiff to make a clear showing that:

  1. There is a likelihood of success on the merits;
  2. Irreparable harm is likely to occur in the absence of preliminary relief;
  3. The balance of equities tips in his favor of the plaintiff; and
  4. An injunction is in the public interest.
    Winter, 555 U. S., at 20, 22.

The court rejected a lesser standard proposed by the NLRB that merely required the Board to show “reasonable cause to believe that unfair labor practices have occurred.” The Court reasoned:

Section 10(j) authorizes a federal district court “to grant . . . such temporary relief . . . as it deems just and proper” during the pendency of the Board’s administrative proceedings. §160(j). When Congress empowers courts to grant equitable relief, there is a strong presumption that courts will exercise that authority in a manner consistent with traditional principles of equity. For preliminary injunctions, the four criteria identified in Winter encompass the relevant equitable principles. Nothing in §10(j) displaces the presumption that those traditional principles govern. We therefore conclude that district courts must use the traditional four-part test when evaluating the Board’s request for a preliminary injunction under §10(j).

Thus, the Court rejected the less burdensome “reasonable cause” standard.

What is the Impact of the Court’s Ruling?

The Court’s opinion asserts a unified standard to apply in injunction cases that replaces a variety of different tests across the Circuit Court of Appeals. The NLRB now must meet the heightened four-factor test to obtain 10(j) injunctions. Although the NLRB typically seeks injunctions in limited situations, the decision may further curtail the Board’s use of 10(j) injunctions as an enforcement strategy.

As always, please let me know if I can help with any employment matters.

BFV Perspectives, Navigating HR, | Jun 13, 2024
Kenneth N. Winkler
Kenneth N. Winkler

Kenneth Winklera shareholder at Berman Fink Van Horn, helps employers navigate the employment laws and regulations that govern the workplace.