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U.S. Supreme Court

Whirlpool Corp. v. Marshall, 445 U.S. 1 (1980)

Whirlpool Corp. v. Marshall

No. 78-1870

Argued January 9, 1980

Decided February 26, 1980

445 U.S. 1


Section 11(c)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (Act) prohibits an employer from discharging or discriminating against any employee who exercises "any right afforded by" the Act. Respondent Secretary of Labor promulgated a regulation providing that, among other rights protected by the Act, is the right of an employee to choose not to perform his assigned task because of a reasonable apprehension of death or serious injury coupled with a reasonable belief that no less drastic alternative is available. Claiming that a suspended wire mesh screen in petitioner's manufacturing plant used to protect employees from objects occasionally falling from an overhead conveyor was unsafe, two employees of petitioner refused to comply with their foreman's order to perform their usual maintenance duties on the screen. They were then ordered to punch out without working or being paid for the remainder of their shift, and subsequently received written reprimands, which were placed in their employment files. Thereafter, respondent brought suit in Federal District Court, alleging that petitioner's actions against the two employees constituted discrimination in violation of § 11(c)(1) of the Act, and seeking injunctive and other relief. While finding that the implementing regulation justified the employees' refusals to obey their foreman's order, the District Court chanrobles.com-red

Page 445 U. S. 2

nevertheless denied relief, holding that the regulation was inconsistent with the Act, and therefore invalid. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, agreeing that the employees' actions were justified under the regulation but disagreeing with the conclusion that the regulation was invalid.

Held: The regulation in question was promulgated by respondent in the valid exercise of his authority under the Act, and constitutes a permissible gloss on the Act, in light of the Act's language, structure, and legislative history. Pp. 445 U. S. 8-22.

(a) The regulation clearly conforms to the Act's fundamental objective of preventing occupational deaths and serious injuries. Moreover, the regulation is an appropriate aid to the full effectuation of the Act's "general duty" clause, which requires an employer to furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious injury to the employees. The regulation thus, on its face, appears to further the Act's overriding purpose and rationally complements its remedial scheme. Pp. 445 U. S. 11-13.

(b) The facts that Congress, at the time it was considering passage of the Act, rejected a so-called "strike with pay" provision (whereby an obligation would be imposed on employers to continue to pay employees who absented themselves from work for reasons of safety), and also rejected a provision that would have given the Labor Department, in imminent danger situations, the power temporarily to shut down all or part of an employer's plant, do not indicate a congressional intent incompatible with an administrative interpretation of the Act such as is embodied in the regulation at issue. In contrast to the "strike with pay" provision, the regulation does not require employers to pay workers who refuse to perform assigned tasks in face of imminent danger, but simply provides that, in such case, the employer may not "discriminate" against the employees involved. And in contrast to the "shutdown" provision, the regulation accords no authority to Government officials, but simply permits private employees to avoid workplace conditions that they believe pose grave dangers to their own safety, and does not empower such employees to order their employers to correct the hazardous condition. Pp. 445 U. S. 13-21.

593 F.2d 716, affirmed.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. chanrobles.com-red

Page 445 U. S. 3