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Supreme Court Imposes Tighter Standard for NLRB to Obtain Injunctive Relief

June 24, 2024

The Supreme Court of the United States recently unanimously ruled against the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) in Starbucks Corp. v. McKinney. The decision reversed the NLRB’s attempt to change the standard for evaluating the right to injunctive relief, and requires courts to analyze four factors before issuing a preliminary injunction to restrict an employer’s actions in pending cases involving labor disputes. The four-factor test is consistent with the test used by courts in the context of other types of requests for temporary injunctive relief.

Often, the NLRB will seek injunctive relief in highly contentious labor disputes and in many cases, the injunction seeks to reinstate a discharged employee.  Courts must weigh the following four factors before granting an NLRB request for injunctive relief under Section 10(j) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA): (1) whether the NLRB is likely to succeed on the merits of the underlying case; (2) whether the NLRB’s would be likely to suffer irreparable harm without an injunction; (3) the balance of interests between the NLRB and the employer or union; and (4) the public interest.

Some courts had been applying more lenient standards, including a rule favored by the NLRB that employed a two-factor test assessing whether there is “reasonable cause” that the employer violated the NLRA and whether an injunction would be “just and proper.” The Supreme Court case followed Starbucks’ appeal of a Sixth Circuit decision that utilized the two-factor test. Ultimately, the decision establishes a national, uniform standard for 10(j) injunction cases.

The NLRB argued that the Supreme Court should at least apply a more deferential approach to the “success on the merits” factor, but the majority comprised of eight justices rejected that approach, with only Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson favoring a more relaxed first factor. All nine justices supported the four-factor test.

The decision is the latest development in the ever-shifting landscape of legal standards in labor law. If you have questions about how this decision may impact your business, please contact a member of the McNees Labor & Employment Group.


Robert J. McAvoy

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