On March 30, 2020 the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) affirmed the conclusion of a NLRB Administrative Law Judge that Maine Coast Memorial Hospital (“MCMH”) discriminated against Karen Jo Young in violation of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) when it terminated her for writing a letter to the editor of the Ellsworth American “discussing staffing shortages at the hospital and the impact on her and her coworkers’ working conditions, and expressing support for the Ellsworth nurses’ union’s efforts to improve staffing levels.” The NLRB’s three member board found, unanimously, that MCMH and Eastern Maine Health Systems (“EMHS”) which is now named Northern Light, had maintained an unlawful media policy at MCMH and other EMHS facilities including Acadia Hospital, Blue Hill Memorial Hospital, CA Dean Memorial Hospital, Eastern Medical Center, Inland Hospital, Lakewood Continuing Care Center, the Aroostook Medical Center, and VNA Home Health & Hospice, which precluded employees from communicating with the news media on topics relating to MCMH/EMHS. The unlawful policy stated:
No EMHS employee may contact or release to news media information about EMHS, its member organizations or their subsidiaries without the direct involvement of the EMHS Community Relations Department or of the chief operating officer responsible for that organization. Any employee receiving an inquiry from the media will direct that inquiry to the EMHS Community Relations Department, or Community Relations staff at that organization for appropriate handling.
According to the NLRB decision, this media policy was used as the basis to terminate Ms. Young for her letter to the editor. According to the NLRB, the termination discriminated against Ms. Young for engaging in concerted, protected activity and for engaging in union activity. According to the portion of the ALJ’s Decision affirmed by the NLRB, Ms. Young was not in a union at the time that she wrote the article but was nonetheless protected by the NLRA because she was speaking out regarding concerns about staffing levels that she believed were having an impact on patient care and also adversely impacting the working conditions of employees including Ms. Young. The NLRB has ordered MCMH to reinstate Ms. Young to her position, pay her back pay with interest, cease and desist from using a Media Policy like the one that was in place when Ms. Young was terminated, and notify employees of the NLRB decision. The NLRB also mandates that MCMH and Northern Light post a notice at MCMH, Acadia Hospital, Blue Hill Memorial Hospital, CA Dean Memorial Hospital, Eastern Medical Center, Inland Hospital, Lakewood Continuing Care Center, the Aroostook Medical Center, and VNA Home Health & Hospice which contains, among other things, assurances that MCMH and Northern Light will not retaliate against employees in the future for exercising rights protected by the NLRA.