Celebrities … they’re just like us. Which is to say that they now have a reason to be ticked off at the National Labor Relations Board too. A recent decision by an NLRB administrative law judge tells Hollywood’s A-listers they get no special treatment under the labor laws.
The MUSE School, founded by Titanic director James Cameron, is an elementary school in Calabasas, California, a wealthy town north of Los Angeles. Some of the students at MUSE are children of celebrities. Given the school’s notoriety, all MUSE School employees are required to sign an extensive confidentiality agreement as a condition of employment.
In June 2013 an employee left the MUSE School. Shortly after her departure, the school’s attorney sent her a sternly-worded letter accusing her of violating her confidentiality agreement and threatening legal action if she continued to do so. The employee, in turn, filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB alleging that the MUSE School’s policy violated labor laws.
The employee claimed that the policy violated the National Labor Relations Act by prohibiting discussion of compensation, prohibiting recording anything taking place at the school, and prohibiting the making of any disparaging remarks about the school. The NLRB judge agreed.
In the past few years, the NLRB has taken a very harsh view of employer conduct policies. The Board has ruled that many seemingly neutral, well-meaning policies – courtesy policies, social media policies, nondisclosure policies – violate labor law because a reasonable employee could believe the language of the policy restricts their protected concerted activities, which include discussing pay, recording an employer’s unlawful conduct, and making statements critical of an employer.
The MUSE School argued that its high-profile founder and clientele meant its confidentiality policy deserved a little extra leeway. The NLRB judge briskly shot that argument down: “Respondent does not cite any case law or Board precedent showing how the confidentiality of its founders and celebrity clients triumphs its employees’ right to discuss their wages, hours, or other terms and conditions of employment.” Take that, glitterati.
The National Labor Relations Act was made law in 1935 to achieve industrial peace by regulating union-management relations. Eighty years later the Board is reviewing confidentiality policies at swanky L.A. private schools where celebrities send their kids. Maybe the NLRB judge just wants a feature in Variety.