The U.S. Appeals Court upheld a National Labor Relations Board ruling that DirecTV and its Coral Gables, Florida, installation contractor MasTec unlawfully fired 26 technicians for complaining during a wage dispute.
Judge Sri Srinivasan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit wrote that the employees had the right to complain to a local broadcast news outlet about their labor battle, even if their comments were unflattering and/or unfair to their employers.
"We agree with the dissent that the board erred in not upholding the administrative law judge’s original decision and are considering our options," said DirecTV parent AT&T in a statement.
The case dates back to 2006, when MasTec and DirecTV found themselves at odds with a group of employees over an installation mandate that required DirecTV set-tops be connected to copper landlines.
The connection provided the one-way satellite service with a coveted a way to know what its customers were watching.
But in trying to ensure that each DirecTV set-top had a copper connection, MasTec "got a lot of pushback" by its techs, Gavin Appleby, a Littler Mendelson attorney representing MasTec, told FierceInstaller last year. With many customers beginning to dispense with landline phones in favor of wireless, establishing a landline connection often slowed down projects.
In 2006, after a tense meeting with MasTec management, 26 of the installer's employees approached a local Orlando, Florida, TV news outlet and told reporters that MasTec and its client were pressuring them to lie to customers and tell them that a copper connection was necessary for their DVR to run properly.
MasTec fired the employees, accusing them of using company time to make misleading statements to the press that had nothing to do with their labor dispute.
The workers filed suit, claiming they were fired in retaliation for outing company misdeeds. For its part, DirecTV has counter-claimed that the Local6 TV news report should have targeted MasTec, not the installer's client. MasTec also claimed the employees made false and misleading statements to the press.
DirecTV and MasTec won an initial battle litigated in 2007-08 by an administrative law judge. The plaintiffs then won an appeal made to the National Labor Relations Board.
The NLRB ruled that the techs had engaged in a protected activity by appearing on television, and MasTec broke the law by firing them. MasTec was ordered to re-instate the employees.
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