National Aeronautics and Space Administration v. Federal Labor Relations Authority

PETITIONER: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
RESPONDENT: Federal Labor Relations Authority
LOCATION: Knowles' Car

DOCKET NO.: 98-369
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 527 US 229 (1999)
ARGUED: Mar 23, 1999
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1999

ADVOCATES:
David C. Frederick - Argued the cause for the petitioners
David M. Smith - Argued the cause for respondent Federal Labor Relations Authority
Stuart Kirsch - Argued the cause for respondent American Federation of Government Employees

Facts of the case

After enacting the Inspector General Act (IGA), which created an Office of Inspector General (OIG) in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and other federal agencies, Congress enacted the Federal Service Labor- Management Relations Statute (FSLMRS). The FSLMRS permits union participation at an employee examination conducted "by a representative of the agency" if the employee believes that the examination will result in disciplinary action and requests such representation. In January 1993, NASA's OIG (NASA-OIG) conducted an investigation of certain threatening activities of a NASA employee. A NASA-OIG investigator interviewed the employee and permitted the employee's union representative to attend. Subsequently, the employee's union filed a charge with the Federal Labor Relations Authority (Authority), alleging that NASA and its OIG had committed an unfair labor practice when the investigator limited the union representative's participation in the interview. In ruling for the union, an Administrative Law Judge concluded that the OIG investigator was a "representative" of NASA within FSLMRS' meaning, and that the investigator's behavior had violated the employee's right to union representation. On review, the Authority agreed and granted relief against both NASA and NASA-OIG. The Court of Appeals upheld the Authority's rulings and granted the Authority's application for enforcement of its order.

Question

May an investigator employed in NASA's Office of Inspector General be considered a "representative" of NASA when examining a NASA employee, such that the right to union representation in the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute may be invoked?

Media for National Aeronautics and Space Administration v. Federal Labor Relations Authority

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 23, 1999 in National Aeronautics and Space Administration v. Federal Labor Relations Authority

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 17, 1999 in National Aeronautics and Space Administration v. Federal Labor Relations Authority

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in two cases will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

In the first of the two cases we resolved the dispute between two different executive agencies an arguable attention between two statutes that were enacted on successive days in 1978.

The agencies are the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Federal Labor Relations Authority.

On October 12, 1978 Congress enacted the Inspector General Act which created an office of Inspector General in each of several federal agencies including NASA.

The following day Congress enacted the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute which provides certain protections including union representation for a variety of federal employees.

One of those protections is the right to have a union representative present during an interview which an employee reasonably believes may result in disciplinary action.

The question presented by this case is whether an investigator employed in NASA's office of Inspector General can be considered a representative of NASA when conducting such an interview.

The answer is yes.

Like the Federal Labor Relations Authority, the Court of Appeals concluded that the investigator in this case was indeed acting as a representative of NASA during the employee examination at issue.

For the reasons that are stated in the opinion filed with the Clerk, we affirm.

In circumstances such as these an office of Inspector General Investigator (I am avoiding using many of the acronyms that appear in the opinion by the way) is acting for and on behalf of the agency in which it is stationed and needs of the relative independence granted such investigations by the Inspector General Act, nor petitioners' policy arguments altre that conclusion.

Justice Thomas has filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice, Justice O'Connor and Justice Scalia have joined.