The US 8 th Circuit Court of Appeals made the ruling in a case that had originally come before US District Judge Robert Dawson who declined to consider the case on its merits, the Associated Press reported. Dawson ruled that the claims that the giant retailer retaliated against unionizing employees by threatening to withhold profit sharing, retirement and health benefits were solely under the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) jurisdiction and that he had no authority to intervene.
”Because the court does have jurisdiction and the plaintiff’s claims are not moot, the district court’s order to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings with respect to those claims,” the appellate judges asserted.
According to the appellate decision, the original suit was filed by several employees of a Wal-Mart tire and lube service center inKingman, Arizona, who had sought a vote on unionizing in October 2000 (See Lawsuit Charges Wal-Mart Plan Language Violates ERISA ). The vote never happened because the workers complained to the NLRB about the benefits withholding threat.
At issue is Wal-Mart’s former “union exclusion clause” saying that unionized employees were not eligible for profit sharing, 401K and health plans.
The labor board brought Wal-Mart before an administrative law court that ordered the company in 2003 to drop the exclusion clause after finding the exclusion was meant ”to ensure, to the extent it (Wal-Mart) could, that its employees were fearful of losing their benefits, and thus continued to reject union representation.”
Wal-Mart appealed that decision and remains in settlement discussions with the labor relations board to this day, the 8 th Circuit panel said. Wal-Mart has since removed the section from its employee benefits booklets.