Seyfarth Synopsis: In Colorado Symphony Association, 366 NLRB No. 60 (April 13, 2018), the NLRB found that an employer had an obligation to disclose information related to individual overscale contracts because the request related to the union’s investigation of potential sex discrimination, a mandatory subject of bargaining.
In a unanimous decision issued on April 13, 2018, the NLRB upheld an Administrative Law Judge’s (“ALJ”) decision ordering the production and disclosure to the Union of individual overscale contracts entered into between the Colorado Symphony Association and certain of its musicians.
The catalyst for the request came from the Principal Flutist in the Symphony who believed that she was being paid less than her male counterparts. The Flutist raised this concern to the Union during her individual contract negotiations with the Symphony, which did not involve the Union. She also alerted the Union to the fact that she was considering filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) regarding her alleged sex discrimination. Although the Union advised the Flutist that they could not assist with her EEOC filing, they subsequently requested copies of the individual overscale contracts from the Symphony. A mere two days later, and without the requested information, the Flutist filed her EEOC charge.
According to the ALJ and the NLRB, the Symphony was required to provide copies of the individual overscale agreements to the Union despite the fact that: (i) the CBA expressly authorized the Symphony to negotiate and enter into these agreements; (ii) the Union did not participate in the individual overscale agreement negotiations; (iii) the Union never filed or assisted with a grievance related to the overscale agreements, nor had it raised any issue regarding these agreements during negotiations for a new CBA; and (iv) the CBA did not prohibit the Symphony from engaging in race or sex discrimination or contain a clause obligating the Symphony to comply with all applicable federal and state law, meaning that there was no way for the Flutist to file a grievance under the agreement for her alleged discrimination.
Regardless, the ALJ found that “investigating possible employer race or sex discrimination is a legitimate purpose related to a union’s collective-bargaining duties and responsibilities,” even without the presence of a non-discrimination clause in the contract. The ALJ speculated that because the parties were in negotiations, the Union could have used the individual overscale agreement information to propose the inclusion of such language in a future agreement. Even if that was not the goal, however, the ALJ asserted that the Union was investigating potential sex discrimination, which is a well-established mandatory subject of bargaining. The ALJ further noted that the Union “may therefore be entitled to information that is relevant and necessary to determining whether a particular employment action is discriminatory, even if the employment action itself is not a mandatory subject [of bargaining].”
The ALJ likewise dismissed the Symphony’s claim that the Union’s request constituted an improper fishing expedition for information to support the Flutist’s EEOC charge, noting that the Flutist had not filed the EEOC charge at the time of the initial request, the information sought was presumptively relevant, and that regardless of the EEOC charge filing, a union may conduct its own investigation of possible employer discrimination as part of its legitimate collective-bargaining duties and responsibilities, even where the CBA lacks any non-discrimination provision.
Employers should note that this case can be seen as emblematic of the increased expectations of a union’s responsibilities in the “Me Too” era. It also appears that the NLRB is willing to accept these additional expectations as a legitimate responsibility of a union as the employee’s collective bargaining representative. What remains to be seen is how far a union will go to protect its female members from sex discrimination and how much information the NLRB will require an employer to provide on non-mandatory subjects of bargaining where a union claims its request relates to investigating possible discrimination.