NLRB v. Pessoa Construction Company


UNPUBLISHED PER CURIAM OPINION filed. Motion disposition in opinion--granting Motion to strike [999622996-2]; granting Motion for leave to file [999622996-3]; granting Motion for enforcement of agency order (FRAP 15) [999533134-2] in 15-1182 Originating case number: 05-CA-034547,05-CA-034761,05-CA-035083. Copies to all parties and the district court/agency. [999722153]. [15-1182, 15-1251]

Download PDF
Appeal: 15-1182 Doc: 45 Filed: 12/21/2015 Pg: 1 of 20 UNPUBLISHED UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT No. 15-1182 NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, Petitioner, v. PESSOA CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, Respondent. No. 15-1251 PESSOA CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, Petitioner, v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, Respondent. On Petition for Review and Cross-application for Enforcement of an Order of the National Labor Relations Board. (05-CA-034547; 05-CA-034761; 05-CA-035083) Argued: October 27, 2015 Before TRAXLER, Judges. Chief Judge, Decided: WILKINSON and December 21, 2015 DUNCAN, Circuit Appeal: 15-1182 Doc: 45 Filed: 12/21/2015 Pg: 2 of 20 Petition for review denied and cross-application for enforcement granted by unpublished per curiam opinion. ARGUED: David A. Seid, NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, Washington, D.C., for Petitioner/Cross-Respondent. Michael E. Avakian, WIMBERLY, LAWSON & AVAKIAN, Washington, D.C., for Respondent/Cross-Petitioner. ON BRIEF: Richard F. Griffin, Jr., General Counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, Deputy General Counsel, John H. Ferguson, Associate General Counsel, Linda Dreeben, Deputy Associate General Counsel, Robert J. Englehart, Supervisory Attorney, NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, Washington, D.C., for Petitioner/Cross-Respondent. Unpublished opinions are not binding precedent in this circuit. 2 Appeal: 15-1182 Doc: 45 Filed: 12/21/2015 Pg: 3 of 20 PER CURIAM: Pessoa former Construction employee, Company William (“Pessoa”) Membrino discharged (“Membrino”), its from his position as a Commercial Motor Vehicle (“CMV”) driver in 2008. The National Labor Relations Board (the “Board”) found that Pessoa had discharged Membrino for engaging in union activities, in violation of §§ 8(a)(1) and (a)(3) of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), see 29 U.S.C. §§ 158(a)(1) and (a)(3), and ordered interest. Pessoa to reinstate Membrino We enforced the Board’s order. with backpay plus See Pessoa Constr. Co. v. NLRB, 507 Fed. Appx. 304 (4th Cir. 2013) (per curiam). In supplemental proceedings, the Board has now ordered Pessoa to pay Membrino $95,046.07, plus interest, in backpay. Pessoa petitions for review, liability should be $24,054. of its supplemental order. asserting that its backpay The Board applies for enforcement We deny Pessoa’s petition for review and grant the Board’s application for enforcement. I. Under 29 U.S.C. § 160(c) of the NLRA, the Board is granted broad, but not unlimited, authority, to award backpay to an employee who has been fired for engaging in union activities. See Coronet Foods, Inc. v. NLRB, 158 F.3d 782, 788, 798 (4th Cir. 1998). possible, The goal is “to restore the situation ‘as nearly as to that which would 3 have obtained but for the Appeal: 15-1182 Doc: 45 [employer’s] Filed: 12/21/2015 illegal Pg: 4 of 20 discrimination.’” Id. at 798 (quoting Phelps Dodge Corp. v. NLRB, 313 U.S. 177, 194 (1941)). Because “backpay administration’ is Congress within the entrusted to ‘empiric the process expertise of of the Board,” “we review the Board’s backpay order for an abuse of . . . discretion.” Id. (quoting Phelps, 313 U.S. at 194); see id. at 789 (noting that “the Board’s choice of remedy, resting on the Board’s ‘fund of knowledge all its own,’ must be given special respect by reviewing courts” (quoting NLRB v. Gissel Packing Co., 395 U.S. 575, 612 (1969)). “We must enforce the Board’s chosen remedy unless it is arbitrary, capricious, or manifestly contrary to the quotation marks omitted). stand if ‘supported statute.” Id. at 788 (internal “The [Board’s] findings of fact must by substantial considered as a whole.’” evidence on the record Id. (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 160(f)). “Only in very clear circumstances should courts override the Board’s findings in th[is] area.” Ordinarily, an unlawfully Id. at 799. discharged employee is awarded backpay from the date of the unlawful discharge to the date the employer offers valid, unconditional reinstatement. Waco Insulation, Inc., 567 F.2d 596, 603 (4th See NLRB v. Cir. 1977). However, “[e]mployees who lose their jobs as a result of unfair labor practices must mitigate their damages by seeking interim employment.” Coronet, 158 F.3d at 800. 4 The employee “need not Appeal: 15-1182 Doc: 45 Filed: 12/21/2015 Pg: 5 of 20 actually obtain work,” but he “must make . . . a reasonable effort to obtain interim employment.” marks omitted). such as cause, when A claimant’s willful loss of interim earnings, he tolls Id. (internal quotation the voluntarily backpay resigns period. employment See NLRB without good Pepsi Cola v. Bottling Co., 258 F.3d 305, 310 (4th Cir. 2001). Similarly, “[a]n employee who willfully loses employment by engaging in deliberate or gross misconduct is not entitled to backpay for a resulting earnings loss.” Id. at 311 (internal quotation marks omitted). In all cases, however, it is the offending employer’s burden “to establish any affirmative defense which would lessen the amount practices.” of backpay owed to the victims of its unlawful NLRB v. Mining Specialists, Inc., 326 F.3d 602, 605 (4th Cir. 2003). “And any doubts arising with regard to alleged affirmative defenses are to be resolved against the employer who committed the unfair labor practice.” Id.; see also Coronet, 158 F.3d at 800 (noting that “[t]he Board may resolve any doubts against” the employer). II. Membrino has worked as a commercial truckdriver since the early 1990s and, in this capacity, held a Class A commercial drivers license (“CDL”) authorizing him to drive a variety of commercial vehicles. Membrino 5 began working at Pessoa, a Appeal: 15-1182 Doc: 45 Filed: 12/21/2015 Pg: 6 of 20 highway construction contractor, in approximately 2003 or 2004. He left in June 2006 for another job, but returned at Pessoa’s request in June 2007. On October 23, 2008, shortly after the Laborers’ International unionized Pessoa’s Union employees, of North Pessoa America fired successfully Membrino for his participation in union activities, in violation of the NLRA. The Board subsequently ordered Pessoa to reinstate Membrino with backpay, but he was not offered reinstatement until February 8, 2013, shortly after we affirmed the Board’s original order. Pursuant to the safety regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) of the United States Department of Transportation (“DOT”), a CMV driver is required, among other things, to undergo a medical examination and obtain a medical examiner’s certificate that he or she is physically qualified to safely 391.11(b)(4), 391.41, medically certified § 391.45(b)(1). operate 391.43, every a & 24 CMV. See 391.45. The months. 49 C.F.R. driver See must 49 §§ be C.F.R. However, if the driver’s “ability to perform [his or her] normal duties has been impaired by a physical or mental injury required. drive if or disease,” medical 49 C.F.R. § 391.45(c). he has a “current certification is again A driver is not qualified to clinical diagnosis of myocardial infarction, angina pectoris, coronary insufficiency, thrombosis, or any other cardiovascular disease of a variety known to be 6 Appeal: 15-1182 Doc: 45 Filed: 12/21/2015 Pg: 7 of 20 accompanied by syncope, dyspnea, collapse, or congestive cardiac failure.” 49 C.F.R. § 391.41(b)(4). Membrino’s CDL license was valid as of October 24, 2008, the first day after his unlawful termination by Pessoa, and he immediately driver. began On to search November 3, for 2008, interim however, chest pain and numbness in his arms. unstable angina hypertension. pectoris, He acute underwent a employment a CMV experienced He was diagnosed with ischemic coronary angioplasty to treat the condition. Membrino as heart disease, angiography, and and an On November 4, Membrino was released from the hospital with a prescription for high blood pressure and cholesterol. He was advised to refrain from driving for two days and from heavy lifting for two weeks, and was told to follow-up with his physician in 1-2 weeks. On November 29, interim employment. 2008, Membrino resumed his search for He initially had no luck, but ultimately secured six interim terms of employment, the last of which he opted to continue instead of accepting Pessoa’s offer of reinstatement. Membrino landed his first interim job with Portable Storage in April 2010. As the final step in the hiring process, Membrino was required to pass the DOT medical examination and receive the medical examiner’s certification (the “DOT card”) required under the FMCSA regulations to drive a CMV. 7 On April Appeal: 15-1182 23, Doc: 45 2010, card. Filed: 12/21/2015 Membrino passed Pg: 8 of 20 the physical and received his DOT However, Membrino received only a temporary, 3-month card due to his diagnosis of hypertension. for Portable Storage on April 27. Membrino began working One week later, however, Portable Storage eliminated his position, which had been newly created, because the route was not cost-effective. 1 On May 14, 2010, Membrino position with Aggregate Industries. successfully applied for a Aggregate likewise required Membrino to complete a DOT physical and obtain a new DOT card. Membrino again passed the physical, and was again temporary 3-month DOT card due to his hypertension. given a Membrino began working for Aggregate on June 2, 2010, and he passed at least one additional DOT physical thereafter. On December 17, however, Membrino was fired after he backed his truck into a tree. He began working at Cylos, Inc., on December 21, 2010, but was fired on December 30, for leaving work without draining the water lines in his truck. Membrino claimed that the mechanic was aware of the water in the lines and had assured Membrino that he would drain them, but Membrino was terminated nonetheless. 1 A Portable Storage witness testified that Membrino was fired for failing to report for work for three consecutive days. However, the ALJ credited Membrino’s version of the events because the Portable Storage witness had no personal knowledge about the circumstances that led to Membrino’s departure. 8 Appeal: 15-1182 Doc: 45 Filed: 12/21/2015 Pg: 9 of 20 On February 25, 2011, Membrino was hired by AD&C Management Company, where he remained until he voluntarily left to begin work for Reddy Ice. He worked for Reddy Ice from June 1, 2011, until the end of July 2011, when he was hired by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (“WSSC”). on August 1, 2011. He began working at WSSC By the time Pessoa made its valid offer to reinstate Membrino on February 8, 2013, Membrino’s income from WSSC was effectively eliminating Pessoa’s backpay liability. Membrino declined the offer of reinstatement. A compliance thereafter issued specification to Pessoa and in outstanding backpay liability. notice order to of hearing resolve was Pessoa’s Membrino’s gross backpay period ran from October 24, 2008, the first day of his unemployment, to February 8, 2013, when he was offered reinstatement, and his gross backpay was calculated to be $199,285.90. from November admittedly 3 not hospitalization, to November looking was 28, for excluded from 2008, when employment the The time period gross Membrino following backpay was his period. Membrino’s wages from his interim employment were deducted from the gross backpay calculation. The General Counsel alleged that Pessoa owed Membrino $107,929 in net backpay, plus interest. Pessoa claimed that its backpay liability was only $912, all of which was incurred prior to Membrino’s hospitalization. 9 Appeal: 15-1182 Doc: 45 Filed: 12/21/2015 Pg: 10 of 20 At the conclusion of the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) rejected Pessoa’s challenges to the gross backpay calculation, including its claim that backpay liability should have been tolled from November 3, 2008, to April 23, 2010, due to Membrino’s medical condition. However, the ALJ did reduce the gross backpay to account for several periods when Membrino’s CDL had been suspended for his failure to pay fines and support obligations. efforts The ALJ found that Membrino had made reasonable to departures obtain from interim Portable employment, Storage, and that Aggregate Membrino’s Industries, Cylos, Inc., were not the result of willful misconduct. and With the adjustments, the final award was computed to be $95,046.07, plus interest. The Board affirmed. III. A. Pessoa’s primary claim is that the FMCSA regulations governing CMV drivers take precedence over the NLRA, and that Membrino’s diagnosis of angina pectoris on November 3, 2008, immediately disqualified him from driving a CMV. Pessoa argues that Membrino remained unavailable for work as a CMV driver, and ineligible for backpay under the NLRA, until Membrino passed the DOT physical and obtained his new DOT card on April 23, 2010, for Portable Storage. 10 Appeal: 15-1182 Doc: 45 Filed: 12/21/2015 Pg: 11 of 20 The ALJ rejected Pessoa’s claim, noting that neither Pessoa “nor potential interim employers (such as Portable Storage and Aggregate) required Membrino to present a current DOT card as a precondition Instead, to considering potential him employers for allowed vacant CDL Membrino to positions. apply for vacant CDL positions, and then sent him for a DOT physical only as a final step to fulfill before starting work.” J.A. 22. Moreover, “Membrino complied with that procedure when asked to do so, and passed his DOT physicals when they were required.” J.A. 22. “Since there [was] no evidence of a period of time [after November 28, 2008] where Membrino would not have been able to pass a DOT physical if requested,” the ALJ rejected Pessoa’s “request to toll the backpay period on that basis.” J.A. 22. The Board affirmed. In its petition for review, Pessoa contends that Membrino was ineligible to work as a CMV driver as a matter of law and, therefore, that “the Board’s chosen remedy trenches upon” the federal laws and regulations governing CMV operators, which are “outside the Board’s competence to administer.” Hoffman Plastic Compounds, Inc. v. NLRB, 535 U.S. 137, 147 (2002). We disagree. In Hoffman, the Supreme Court held that an undocumented alien was disqualified from a backpay award under the NLRA, even though he had been fired for engaging in union activities. The employee and had at all times been 11 illegally present Appeal: 15-1182 Doc: 45 Filed: 12/21/2015 Pg: 12 of 20 unauthorized to work in the United States. He was subject to criminal punishment for obtaining employment through the use of false documents. And he had, therefore, “qualifie[d] for the Board’s award . . . only by remaining inside the United States illegally.” Id. at 150. Under such circumstances, the Court held that policy arguments counseled in favor of according the federal immigration laws precedence over the NLRA. See id. at 150 (noting that “awarding backpay in a case like this not only trivializes the immigration laws, it also condones and encourages future violations”). Here, unlike in Hoffman, the Board’s backpay award does not “trench[] upon” the FMCSA regulations or the safety policies that they serve. id. at 147. Membrino held a valid CMV license for many years prior to and during his employment with Pessoa. He was qualified for employment under the federal laws when he was unlawfully terminated interim employment. and when he began his search for Moreover, even if we were to conclude that the FMCSA regulations required Membrino to be re-examined and re-certified after his hospitalization, the required him to do so prior to driving a CMV. regulations only The regulations did not require Membrino to voluntarily undergo a DOT physical at his own expense or hold a current DOT card in order to search for suitable interim employment as a CMV driver to mitigate his 12 Appeal: 15-1182 Doc: 45 losses. Filed: 12/21/2015 Accordingly, the Pg: 13 of 20 Board’s remedial order does not conflict with the requirements of the FMCSA regulations. The Board’s remedial order also does not contravene the safety policies served by the FMCSA regulations. The Board required Pessoa to reinstate Membrino as a CMV driver and to make him whole through the payment of backpay. But the Board’s order did not require Pessoa to allow Membrino to drive a CMV despite any regulatory disqualification, nor would it have required Pessoa to reinstate or recompense Membrino regardless of his medical or legal qualification to return to work as a CMV driver on or after November 29, 2008. Under the NLRA, Pessoa bore the burden of establishing an affirmative defense based upon Membrino’s unavailability work, and any doubts must be resolved against it. Specialists, 326 F.3d at 605. Membrino had pectoris on physically a current November disqualified 2008, from See Mining Pessoa failed to demonstrate that clinical 29, to diagnosis that would operating a of acute have CMV, angina rendered and failed him to demonstrate that he would not have passed a DOT physical as of that date. Indeed, all indications are to the contrary. By all accounts, the medical treatment Membrino received for his acute angina pectoris was a success. He was released from the hospital on November 4, and told that he should avoid driving for two days and heavy lifting for two weeks. 13 He recuperated Appeal: 15-1182 Doc: 45 Filed: 12/21/2015 Pg: 14 of 20 for several weeks, and resumed his efforts to obtain interim work as a CMV driver on November 29. His follow-up health appointments were uneventful and he passed every DOT physical examination that he was required to take by his interim employers thereafter. Accordingly, we hold that the Board did not err as a matter of law in rejecting Pessoa’s claim that the FMCSA regulations mandated that it toll the backpay period from November 28, 2008, to April 23, 2010. Nor did the Board abuse its discretion in finding that Pessoa failed to establish that Membrino suffered from a medical condition that would have disqualified him from obtaining a DOT card or from safely operating a CMV during that time period. B. Pessoa next Membrino’s contends backpay misrepresentations in that period the the Board because employment submitted to his interim employers. he made such misrepresentations. should he have made applications tolled several that he Membrino does not deny that For example, he indicated that he had been self-employed as “Membrino Trucking” or “Membrino Delivery Services,” to cover the gaps in his employment history. He failed to disclose several periods license had been suspended or revoked. of time that his CDL And he at times omitted or concealed the fact that he had been convicted of two felonies 14 Appeal: 15-1182 Doc: 45 Filed: 12/21/2015 more than 15 years before. these false statements needed work.” and Pg: 15 of 20 Membrino “explained that he made omissions because he desperately J.A. 17 n.24; see also J.A. 13 n.11 (“Membrino was clear and forthright in explaining that he was in dire need of employment income.”). he lacked alternat[ive] sources of The Board credited (but did not condone) Membrino’s explanation interim because for why employers, he and made the declined misrepresentations to offset to Pessoa’s his backpay liability for its illegal termination of Membrino on this basis. At the outset, we note that Pessoa’s argument on this basis is not altogether clear. Pessoa appears to contend that Membrino’s misrepresentations amounted to a willful violation of the FMCSA regulations, which require truthful answers on such applications. See, e.g., 49 C.F.R. §§ 383.35, 391.21. However, Pessoa has only explicitly sought to reduce the backpay award for the period from November 28, 2008, to April 23, 2010 (to $24,054), based upon Membrino’s pectoris and his DOT-card status. medical diagnosis of angina Any misrepresentations made by Membrino to interim employers in or after April 2010, could not have resulted in a failure on his part to mitigate losses during the challenged time period. To the extent Pessoa argues that the Board was required to find that similar misrepresentations might have prevented Membrino from securing interim employment prior to April 2010, 15 Appeal: 15-1182 or Doc: 45 that Filed: 12/21/2015 Membrino’s Pg: 16 of 20 misrepresentations caused him to lose employment after April 2010, Pessoa has failed to demonstrate that the Board erred as a matter of law or abused its discretion in rejecting them. Membrino’s violative of misrepresentations, the FMSCA even regulations, if did technically not automatically disqualify him from being hired nor require that he be fired by the employer. the Board’s See 49 C.F.R. § 383.35, 391.21. backpay regulations. Nor order is does there not any conflict Consequently, with evidence the that FMCSA Membrino’s misrepresentations affected the adequacy of his job search or the retention of his interim employment. Pessoa “failed to show unreasonably narrow present evidence Membrino any from backpay period.” or that limited that obtaining or As noted by the Board, Membrino’s in th[e] any job respect” false retaining search and statements employment “did was not prevented during the J.A. 24. We hold that the Board did not exceed its authority or abuse its discretion by failing to toll the backpay period based upon misrepresentations applications to his that interim Membrino made employers. in the employment Even if Membrino’s representations were willful in character, there is no evidence that they actually resulted in an earnings loss. If anything, the misrepresentations inured to the benefit of Pessoa in that 16 Appeal: 15-1182 Doc: 45 they Filed: 12/21/2015 mitigated the earnings Pg: 17 of 20 losses occasioned by Pessoa’s illegal termination of Membrino under the NLRA. C. Pessoa’s final claim is that the ALJ erred in failing to allow it to impeach Membrino’s credibility based upon his two prior felony convictions. We disagree. Pessoa argued before the ALJ that Membrino conducted an inadequate search for interim employment and engaged in willful misconduct that resulted in his being fired by Portable Storage, Aggregate Industries, and Cylos. job search was adequate The ALJ found that Membrino’s and credited Membrino’s regarding the reasons for his terminations. testimony The Board affirmed. Pessoa contends that it should have been allowed to challenge Membrino’s credibility as to the reasonableness of his efforts to obtain and retain such interim employment with Membrino’s criminal history. When more conviction, than the 10 years conviction have is not passed since admissible to a witness’s attack the witness’s character for truthfulness unless: “(1) its probative value, supported substantially by outweighs specific its facts prejudicial and effect; circumstances, and (2) the proponent gives an adverse party reasonable written notice of the intent to use it so that the party has a fair opportunity to contest its use.” Fed. R. Evid. 609(b). 17 Appeal: 15-1182 Doc: 45 Filed: 12/21/2015 Pg: 18 of 20 During the hearing before the ALJ, Pessoa discovered that Membrino had prior convictions for distribution of a controlled substance in 1997 and for possession of a handgun in 1995, well past the 10-year threshold set forth in Federal Rule of Evidence 609(b). The ALJ ruled that Membrino’s criminal record was “not admissible under Rule 609 because of the passage of time, the fact that any probative value of the evidence does not substantially outweigh its prejudicial nature, and the fact that [Pessoa] did not provide reasonable written notice of its intent to use Rule 609 evidence such that the General Counsel would have a fair opportunity to oppose the request.” J.A. 12. Although Pessoa claimed that it should be excused from the prior-notice Membrino’s requirement felony because convictions prior it to had not learned the hearing, the of ALJ noted that Pessoa had sufficient information in its employee files to discover the convictions well in advance of the hearing. And “to the extent that [Pessoa sought] to use the proffered Rule 609 evidence to establish that Membrino made false statements on job applications to interim employers,” the ALJ ruled that the evidence was “cumulative and irrelevant in light of record.” the admissions J.A. 12. that Membrino made elsewhere in the We find no abuse of discretion in the ALJ’s decision to exclude evidence of Membrino’s prior convictions. 18 Appeal: 15-1182 Doc: 45 To Filed: 12/21/2015 the extent Pessoa Pg: 19 of 20 otherwise challenges the ALJ’s credibility determinations regarding its affirmative defenses, we likewise find no abuse of discretion. that credibility determinations will “extraordinary circumstances.” It is well settled be overturned only in WXGI, Inc. v. NLRB, 243 F.3d 833, 842 (4th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted). Such “circumstances include those instances when a credibility determination is unreasonable, contradicts other findings of fact, or is based on an inadequate reason or no reason at all.” Id. (internal extraordinary quotation basis marks for the omitted). court to Here, reverse there the is no Board’s credibility determinations. D. In its Reply Brief, Pessoa argues that the Board’s gross backpay calculation was inflated because it was based in part on overtime hours that Membrino had worked at Pessoa prior to his termination. 2 Because Pessoa did not challenge the gross backpay calculation on jurisdiction to this ground consider before the See U.S.C. it. 29 Board, § we 160(e) lack (“No objection that has not been urged before the Board, its member, 2 Pessoa also raised the issue in a Rule 28(j) letter after it filed its opening brief, to which the Board filed a response. Pending before us is the Board’s motion to strike Pessoa’s Reply to the Board’s Response to Pessoa’s Rule 28(j) letter, which we now grant. See Fed. R. App. P. 28(j). 19 Appeal: 15-1182 Doc: 45 Filed: 12/21/2015 Pg: 20 of 20 agent, or agency, shall be considered by the court, unless the failure or neglect to urge such objection because of extraordinary circumstances.”). shall be excused Even if Pessoa had raised the issue before the Board, we would decline to address it here. n.23 (4th consider See U.S. S.E.C. v. Pirate Inv., LLC, 580 F.3d 233, 255 Cir. 2009) arguments (per raised curiam) for the (“Ordinarily first time we in do a not reply brief.”). IV. For the foregoing reasons, we grant the Board’s application for enforcement and deny Pessoa’s petition for review. APPLICATION FOR ENFORCEMENT GRANTED; PETITION FOR REVIEW DENIED. 20

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?