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Former employees take big bite out of Texas Dental Association

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Two former employees of the Texas Dental Association are $900,000 richer after receiving back pay in a settlement agreement brokered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The pay dispute stemmed from an employee petition drafted by association employee Nathan Clark. The petition, eventually signed by 11 other employees, listed workplace grievances and asked for an outside investigation of management and working conditions at the association’s Austin headquarters.

Later, Laura Haufler, Clark’s immediate supervisor, asked her supervisor, Barbara Lockerman, to talk Clark “out of these activities because … he would be fired.” Lockerman refused to intervene.

Clark then e-mailed the petition to a delegate to the annual meeting of the association’s members. He also anonymously e-mailed it to the board of directors.

During an investigation to find the source of the petition, association leaders found a fragment of the petition on Clark’s work computer. It fired him—and also fired Lockerman for refusing to divulge the names of the employees involved in the petition.

In 2008, Administrative Law Judge George Carson ruled that Clark had been engaged in a protected activity and found that the association had violated the National Labor Relations Act by firing him and Lockerman.

In 2009, NLRB Chairman Wilma Liebman and member Peter Schaumber upheld Carson’s recommendation that the two employees be offered reinstatement with back pay. The association appealed the NLRB decision to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the NLRB filed for enforcement of its order. While the case was pending, the parties agreed to settle.

In addition to paying Clark and Lockerman $900,000 in back pay, the association agreed to post a notice informing employees that they cannot be fired for acting together for mutual benefit and protection.

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