Legal Docket: An injunction against Starbucks | WORLD
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Legal Docket: An injunction against Starbucks


WORLD Radio - Legal Docket: An injunction against Starbucks

Plus, a malicious prosecution case involving stolen jewelry

Fired Starbucks employees celebrate the result of a vote to unionize the Memphis locations, June 7, 2022. Associated Press/Photo by Adrian Sainz, File

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s The World and Everything in It for this 27th day of May, 2024. We’re so glad you’ve joined us on this Memorial Day! Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. WORLD’s June Giving Drive is right around the corner, but this week I want to direct a message to you if you are a regular listener but haven’t supported WORLD financially yet.

Maybe you’ve thought about it but just haven’t gotten around to it.

You may even remember that the last time we specifically sought to welcome first-time WORLD Movers that some of our longer-time WORLD Movers had offered to double all new gifts. That is, match your one dollar with their one dollar.

That was last year. This year, we’re doing something a little different—

This year, our friends are making possible a triple match, but I have to say in the same sentence that it’s good this week only. If you give a first-time dollar, it’ll be matched with two, and that’ll make your gift three.

So a triple match for new WORLD Movers, but you have to make that decision and act on it this week to take full advantage.

REICHARD: I see why it’s just for the one week, very generous offer! The address to visit

Today, two more oral arguments the Supreme Court heard last month.

The first one has to do with the largest chain of coffee shops in the U.S., Starbucks—and efforts to unionize workers, partners as they’re known.

Granted, the legal question of procedure at issue here you may find a bit dry. Stick with me, though: the facts are anything but.

Flash back to January 2022, a particularly aggressive effort to unionize Starbucks partners in Memphis.

Here’s shift supervisor Kylie Throckmorton on WREG News:

KYLIE THROCKMORTON: If we were unionized we can help fight for the scheduling that we need. We can help make sure that everybody’s getting the hours they need.

EICHER: The partners formed a committee, they met with other stores that had unionized, and then sent a letter to the CEO outlining their intentions.

Then things escalated: higher ups closed the store early after union organizers invited news crews. Workers unlocked the store to allow media inside. Off-duty workers even accessed the safe. Of course none of this was authorized.

REICHARD: Next day, Starbucks interviewed people and reviewed security camera footage. It fired the seven partners who entered the store without authorization.

And media dubbed them the “Memphis Seven.”

More minor infractions did not result in termination—things like not ringing up a free drink.

EICHER: Still, former store manager Amy Holden blasted what she called “union busting.”

AMY HOLDEN: We have a process at Starbucks when it comes to corrective actions in terminating partners. We do not move straight to termination for anything that is not considered egregious, like stealing and harassment and those kinds of things. I feel like this is definitely union busting, and it’s definitely unfair.

Starbucks issued written statements saying the firings are completely justified by the many policy violations the workers admit to. And what’s considered “egregious” could be a matter of opinion.

REICHARD: Enter the National Labor Relations Board. NLRB is a federal agency that referees disputes between employers and employees.

The Workers United Union filed with NLRB charges alleging unfair labor practices and retaliation.

While these administrative proceedings are pending, the Board can ask a court for a preliminary injunction. What that does is preserve the status quo until the merits of the allegations get sorted out.

EICHER: The NLRB won that injunction, and it’s been in effect now for nearly two years. Among other things, it required Starbucks to reinstate the so-called Memphis Seven.

So that’s the background. The question the Supreme Court will answer is this: How hard should it be for the NLRB to get an injunction?

Lawyer for Starbucks Lisa Blatt argued that the lower court used a standard much too lax:

LISA BLATT: Preliminary injunctions are extraordinary and drastic remedies. Here, the Board seeks a coercive injunction backed by contempt sanctions, and the Board seeks the very same injunctive relief that it would get if it won the case.

REICHARD: Blatt pointed to precedent laying out four factors courts use to decide whether to order an injunction:

(1) How likely is this to succeed on the merits? (2) Is irreparable harm going to happen if there’s no injunction? (3) Are the equities balanced? And (4) does the injunction serve the public interest?

BLATT: Such relief is highly inappropriate absent a clear showing under all four factors. The government justifies deference because the Board, not trial courts, ultimately decide the merits at the back end. But Congress directed trial courts, not the Board, to apply factors at the front end.

Only Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson seemed to disagree, seeing employment as different.

JUSTICE JACKSON: But we are in a particular context, and I think the context has to inform how we understand what Congress intended with respect to this provision of the statute providing for this kind of injunction.

BLATT: Well, maybe we should just talk about what we're talking about, and that is: does anything in that statute or anything in common sense say the Board gets to walk in and get a coercive injunction on the notion that they have a non-frivolous legal theory and the district court is barred from finding facts, it's barred from weighing witness credibility, and all that matters is the government has not presented a joke.

EICHER: Blunt as usual for Lisa Blatt. She’s argued 50 cases before the high court, more than any other woman.

The other justices seemed to lean in her direction. Here’s Justice Clarence Thomas in an exchange with Blatt for Starbucks:

JUSTICE THOMAS: Ms. Blatt, the government says that Petitioner's ahistorical, decontextualized approach is inconsistent with the statutory text, the basic premises of equity, and over a century of case law. What's your reaction to that? (Laughter)

BLATT: No. (Laughter) I don't even know where they're getting that. I just think the text on its face, you don't have to get too far, says "just and proper." That obviously harks to traditional equity. And, here, we have the four factors.

Even Justice Sonia Sotomayor:

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: You're right, it's the court that has to decide the likelihood of merits.

… while recognizing there’s still analysis to do on the other three factors: harm, balance of equities, and the public interest.

REICHARD: I think this exchange between Chief Justice John Roberts and the lawyer for the Memphis Seven shows why Starbucks is likely to win here:

JUSTICE ROBERTS: Do you agree with your friend on the other side that we can dispose of this in a short opinion? (Laughter)

If they can, it’ll resolve a split among appellate circuits and give employers a sense of certainty that the NLRB is subject to the same standard as any other government litigant.

It’s worth noting that other big companies are also challenging the NLRB: Trader Joe’s, Amazon, and SpaceX, which says the structure of the Board fundamentally violates the Constitution.

EICHER: And our final argument today, that of Chiaverini versus City of Napoleon, Ohio.

Here are the facts. A man came into a jewelry store and sold a ring and diamond earring he claimed to own. He negotiated a price of $45-dollars with store manager Jascha Chiaverini.

But then a phone call came. It was another couple seeking to recover the items. Chiaverini denied anything was wrong and suggested they call the police. He did the same.

REICHARD: But then, trouble ensued. Chiaverini wound up arrested on multiple charges, and spent a few days in jail.

Then he sued for malicious prosecution because he said police didn’t have probable cause on all the charges against him. But the trial court dismissed on grounds that as long as one of the other charges did, that’s enough.

Chiaverini’s lawyer argued that is not the correct rule. His lawyer is Easha Anand:

EASHA ANAND: Plaintiff may make out a malicious prosecution claim by proving that one charge is not supported by probable cause, even if other charges are, provided, of course, that the plaintiff also makes out the other elements of the claim.

Justice Samuel Alito asked the same question I had in mind when I heard about this case:

JUSTICE ALITO: This is a crazy little incident. Why didn’t your client just give the police officers the ring?

ANAND: Well, Your Honor, he asked for the opportunity to consult with counsel because the hold letter was ambiguous, right? It said both hold this as evidence and return it.

ALITO: I know. I mean, there’s crazy behavior on both sides, but look, when the police officers are there and say give the ring to the people, you know, why doesn’t he just give it to them? He paid $45 for this, right? What did he think was going to happen?

EICHER: The lawyer for the city argued the appeals court decision is reasonable. Here’s lawyer Megan Wold:

MEGAN WOLD: Applying the correct Fourth Amendment rule here means setting aside the charge that Petitioner alleges to have lacked probable cause and assessing whether the remaining charges objectively justify his detention.

Wold drove home her point:

WOLD: The court articulates in a paragraph the standard that it's applying for malicious prosecution, and it says that the success of the malicious prosecution claim depends on whether probable cause supported his detention. And so we need to know what the Petitioner's detention was. And, here, it was this few days' detention pursuant to a warrant supported by probable cause on two charges. And that satisfies Fourth Amendment reasonableness. So there can be no Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim.

REICHARD: If Chiavirini prevails, law enforcement will likely see an increase in malicious prosecution claims. Three other circuits follow the rule he wants; the circuits are split on this matter, so clarity is needed.

And that’s this week’s Legal Docket!

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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