Verizon Wireless Must Reinstate Fired Union Activist

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By Lawrence E. Dubé

Verizon Wireless must reinstate and compensate a union activist the company fired for alleged dishonesty, the National Labor Relations Board concluded ( Cellco P’ship , 2017 BL 197670, 365 N.L.R.B. No. 93, 6/9/17 ).

The ruling shows an employer defending a disciplinary action can be stymied by evidence that its managers have been inconsistent in punishing other employees.

The board upheld the finding of an administrative law judge who concluded that Cellco Partnership, which does business as Verizon Wireless, targeted Bianca Cunningham because of her history of organizing for the Communications Workers of America and her effort to advise a sales representative who was anxious about her working relationship with a New York store manager.

Verizon argued Cunningham was lawfully fired for misrepresenting facts about her communications with the sales worker, but the ALJ and board members found the company treated Cunningham more harshly than other employees.

Co-Worker Sought Advice, Help

Cunningham was active in a CWA organizing drive that led to unionization of the company’s Brooklyn, N.Y., stores, according to ALJ John T. Giannopoulos. CWA featured her in promotional videos on YouTube, and the ALJ said Cunningham was a prominent union member who was sought out by other workers.

Victory Eshareturi phoned Cunningham in May 2015, crying and complaining that store manager Al Graves had angrily confronted her about her handling of a customer transaction. Eshareturi was scheduled to close her store with Graves that night but said she was afraid to be alone with Graves, whom she described as volatile and bad-tempered.

Cunningham tried to get advice from union officials and exchanged text messages with Eshareturi for about half an hour until Eshareturi clocked out and went home without waiting for Graves.

Explanation for Discharge Found Pretextual

Verizon investigated the incident and initially decided to fire Eshareturi for “walking off the job.” After questioning both Eshareturi and Cunningham, it charged both with lying. Eventually, the company let Eshareturi go with a final warning and fired Cunningham.

Cunningham initially told Verizon investigators she never advised Eshareturi to leave work, but she eventually admitted telling the employee she would leave if she encountered the same situation.

However, the ALJ said there was evidence Verizon had retained a number of employees who lied during investigations, some of them in situations “far more egregious” than Cunningham’s. Giannopoulos said Verizon was aware of Cunningham’s protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act, and the “most compelling evidence” of its unlawful motive for firing her was the company’s uneven record of disciplining employees who were untruthful in company investigations.

Adopting the ALJ’s decision, the board ordered Verizon to offer Cunningham reinstatement and make her whole for any loss of pay resulting from her discharge. The company must also post notices of employees’ rights at its Brooklyn stores.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lawrence E. Dubé in Washington at ldube@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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