Appeals court sides with Fort Lauderdale college in NLRB case

By Karen Kidd | Jul 10, 2018

ATLANTA (Florida Record) — A Fort Lauderdale college prevailed in a recent federal appeals court decision that said the college did not violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) when it required that employee disputes be resolved in individual arbitration.  

In a decision handed down June 26, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals applied the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in May in Epic Systems v. Lewis to rule in favor of Everglade College, which does business as Evergreen University and Keiser University. 

The appeals court ruled that a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) finding that employee arbitration agreements required by Evergreen College/University violated the NLRA should be reviewed. "The Supreme Court held that such agreements do not violate the NLRA and that the agreements must be enforced as written pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act," the appeals court said in its 10-page ruling.

"In light of Epic Systems, we grant Everglades' petition for review and reverse the NLRB panel's ruling insofar as it held that Everglades violated the NLRA by maintaining and enforcing an employment agreement requiring that employment disputes be resolved through individualized arbitration."

The NLRB had asked the appeals court to uphold an earlier ruling that Everglades College/University had improperly forced employees to sign individual arbitration agreements that banned class or collective actions. Everglades College/University claimed that the employees who signed the agreements easily could have believed that even violations of the NLRA would require arbitration.

In 2015, a three-member NLRB panel concluded that Evergreen College/University violated the NLRA when it maintained and enforced an employment agreement requiring employees with disputes to enter individual arbitration and waive their rights to file class action lawsuits against the college and university. The NLRB panel also concluded that Evergreen employees, based on the employment agreements, could reasonably conclude that they were prohibited from filing unfair labor charges with the NLRB.

The NLRB panel also concluded that Evergreen college/university acted unlawfully when it fired one employee for refusing to sign the employment agreement.

The NLRB panel's conclusions came several years before the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the Epic case.

In its ruling, the 11th Circuit concluded that the issue of whether Everglades employees could reasonably believe they could not file unfair labor charges should be remanded in light of the new standard. "Applying this new standard to Everglades' employment agreement could result in a different ruling," the 11th Circuit said in its ruling.

U.S. Circuit Judge Frank Mays Hull wrote the June 26 ruling in which U.S. Circuit Judges Beverly Baldwin Martin and Jane A. Restani concurred. Restani, a U.S. Court of International Trade judge, sat in on the case by designation.

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