MasTec DirecTV installers ask appeals court to invalidate arbitration agreements in employee contracts

Lawyers representing the employees of Florida-based DirecTV (NYSE: T) installation contractor MasTec Inc. filed a brief with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that waivers in employment agreements that call for arbitration in the event of disputes violate workers' rights under the National Labor Relations Act. 

The National Labor Relations Board has petitioned the courts alongside the MasTec employees for several years, stating the position that the waivers are not valid. So far, each federal court that has heard the case has ordered both sides into binding arbitration. But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to rule on the matter. 

This particular dispute — one of several involving MasTec, its satellite operator client and 26 former installation employees — boils down to an overtime dispute.

MasTec has argued that the plaintiffs agreed to submit their employment disputes to arbitration when they chose — in their employment agreement — not to opt out of the dispute resolution policy. This policy stipulates that any dispute between an employee and Mastec "is to be resolved only by an arbitrator through final and binding arbitration and not by way of court of jury trial." 

The dispute between 26 fired MasTec employees and the company — as well as its client, DirecTV — dates back 10 years and involves at least one other case being considered by the D.C.-based Appeals Court.

The court is currently considering a wrongful termination suit filed by at the former installers.

Oral arguments in the case ended in September. No ruling has been issued yet, according to Gavin Appleby, an attorney for Littler Mendelson, which is representing MasTec and DirecTV in the matter. 

That case, which was reported on by FierceInstaller back in September, 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.

In trying to ensure that each DirecTV set-top had a copper connection, MasTec "got a lot of pushback" by its techs, Appleby said. With many customers beginning to dispense with landline phones in favor of wireless, establishing a landline connection often slowed down projects.  

After a tense meeting with MasTec management, 26 of the installer's employees approached a local Orlando, Fla., 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.

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