NLRB Orders Car Dealer to Reinstate Foul-Mouthed Salesman

Eric Paltell
Eric Paltell
05/30/2014

On May 28, 2014, the National Labor Relations Board  (“NLRB”) ruled that an Arizona car dealership violated the National Labor Relations Act  (“NLRA”)  by firing a salesman who complained about the dealership’s compensation plan.  Plaza Auto Ctr. Inc.., 360 NLRB No. 117 (2014).  The dealership argued that the salesman lost the protection of the law when he launched into a profanity-laced tirade against the owner.

In this case, salesman Nick Aguire constantly complained to managers and co-workers about the way commissions were calculated, as well as the meal and bathroom break polices.  In response to his complaints, the dealership’s owner, Tony Plaza,  told Aguire he could quit if he did not like the way things were done.  At this point, Aguire went off, telling the owner he was stupid, disliked by his employees, a”f-ing crook,” and an “asshole.” He pushed his chair aside and told Mr. Plaza that if he fired him, he’d regret it.  Mr. Plaza took the challenge and fired Aguire.

Ordinarily, the NLRA prohibits an employer from disciplining an employee who complains about terms and conditions of employment when the complaints are made on behalf of employees other than or in addition to individual making the complaint.  However, under NLRB precedent, an employee may lose that protection if he engages in sufficiently outrageous behavior.  The NLRB found that Aguuire did not lose the Act’s protection because he was not “menacing, belligerent, or physically aggressive. ”  Although the Board conceded the remarks were “obscene and denigrating,” it found that the fact the outburst occurred in a closed door meeting away from the workplace and was provoked by Plaza’s invitation to quit made his termination unlawful.

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