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Court: Jimmy John's was right to fire workers over 'poster attack'

Monday's decision overturned previous rulings

The owners of 10 Jimmy John's stores in the Twin Cities won a legal victory Monday in a long-running legal fight.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the owners of the sandwich shops were within their rights when they fired six employees who were part of a union organizing campaign.

Those workers had put up posters around the Twin Cities in 2011 trying to shame Jimmy John's for not giving workers paid sick time. The posters suggested that Jimmy John's food might be unsafe because it may have been made by sick workers.

The court's ruling says what the workers did by launching their "poster attack" during flu season was so disloyal to their employer that it's not covered by labor law.

The appeals judges said allegations that a food industry employer is selling unhealthy food "are likely to have a devastating impact on its business," noting that another court had called it "the equivalent of a nuclear bomb" in a labor relations dispute.

While Jimmy John's does have a policy requiring workers to find their own replacements before they can call in sick, the court noted that the owners of the Twin Cities shops – MikLin Enterprises – had modified that rule. Workers who didn't find a replacement would not be fired right away, but could be dismissed if it happened again.

They also noted that the posters included the personal phone number of MikLin Enterprises' vice president, who testified that he was "bombarded by calls" from people who thought it was unsafe to eat at Jimmy John's.

Earlier rulings backed the workers

The workers argued that they were illegally fired in retaliation for union-organizing activity. Three previous rulings had backed their argument, most recently last year's decision by a panel of the 8th Circuit. Monday's ruling by the full court of appeals overturned the decision and marked the first time a court had backed the Jimmy John's franchisees.

In a coincidence of timing, new rules requiring businesses in Minneapolis and St. Paul to give workers paid sick time just kicked in on Saturday.

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