In-N-Out Burger has lost an appeal of a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision that called the company’s ban of wearing a Fight for $15 pin unlawful.
The decision to deny the NLRB’s ruling was made by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit earlier this month. It was a huge blow to the iconic brand, which is known for fiercely protecting its brand image. The appeal panel’s denial upholds a ruling made by the NLRB stating that the Southern California-based burger institution cannot ban employees from wearing pins on their uniform that promote higher wages for quick-service workers.
NLRB said In-N-Out was in violation of a section of the National Labor Relations Act that “protects the right of employees to wear items such as buttons, pins, and stickers” that are tied to terms and conditions of employment including wages and hours, according to the complaint.
The case stems from an April 2015 incident where an employee at an In-N-Out restaurant in Austin, Texas, wore a “Fight for $15” button during work. The button, fastened to her uniform, was the size of a quarter and featured “$15” superimposed on an image of a raised fist, the complaint stated. Another employee also wore a similar button. The employees were eventually told wearing buttons violated the company’s “no pins and buttons” uniform policy.
Yet, in the complaint, the NLRB noted that twice a year, In-N-Out requires employees to wear buttons to promote Christmas and to solicit donations to the company’s foundation.
The privately held company is known for protecting its brand image and trademarks. It also has a long-standing reputation for paying entry-level employees above minimum wage in the states where it operates. In asking the appeals panel to overturn the NLRB ruling, In-N-Out argued that its predominantly all-white uniform is part of the company’s public image. Banning pins and buttons also ensured food safety, the Irvine-Calif.-based chain argued.
The panel, however, didn’t agree.
In-N-Out’s attorney said he plans to fight the ruling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We respectfully disagree with the decision reached by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and we fully intend on petitioning the decision to the Supreme Court of the United States,” Attorney Arnie Wensinger said in a statement. “We believe that providing a consistent uniform is important to the overall sparkling-clean environment of our restaurants and we also believe our customers would agree that In-N-Out Burger should be able to choose what our Associates wear as a uniform.
“Regardless of this decision, we will continue to treat our associates like family with starting pay well above minimum wage along with the some of the best benefits in our industry,” he said.
When asked if the button-wearing employees still worked at In-N-Out, the company did not respond.
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