Margaret Elias was a cashier for Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Market. Ms. Elias had asked her supervisor if she could participate in some on the job training called “TIPS.” Per her supervisor’s instructions, she wrote “TIPS” on the whiteboard in the employee break room as a reminder of her request. Ms. Elias then found that someone had altered her writing to “TITS” and added an inappropriate illustration to go with it. The company did not allow cameras so Ms. Elias copied the writing and picture on a piece of paper. She asked three of her co-workers to sign the note verifying that they saw it, stating that she wanted to file a sex harassment complaint. The three employees signed the note.
When the company found out that she had obtained those signatures during the course of their investigation into the incident, it asked why and instructed her not to gather any more signatures. The company concluded its investigation and the individual responsible was disciplined. Ms. Elias thereafter filed an Unfair Labor Practice Charge. She contended that the company’s employment policy was over-broad because it could be viewed as restricting her right to ask others to support her sexual harassment claim and that the company was unlawful in instructing her not to obtain any further statements.
The NLRB (reversing the ALJ’s decision) found that Ms. Elias’ actions were “concerted activity” taken for “mutual aid or protection.” Therefore, it was protected by the NLRA. Ms. Elias’ right to ask her employees was independent of whether the requested employees joined her cause or even agreed with her. Asking for assistance from other employees to raise an issue to management, Ms. Elias was in essence asking her co-workers to exercise vigilance against the employer’s perceived unjust practices.