In Friday’s decision by the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, Tesla was ordered to reinstate union advocate Richard Ortiz with back pay. The company had argued that he was terminated for lying in an investigation about his misconduct.
Tesla’s opposition to unions has been a source of friction with the Biden administration. In 2021, Musk accused President Joe Biden, a Democrat, of being controlled by unions and has aligned himself with Republicans in a war over polarizing cultural issues.
Musk’s dispute with the labor board isn’t his first court fight over whether he crossed a line on social media.
A showdown with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission following his controversial 2018 tweets about taking Tesla private got him and the company socked with $40 million in fines and led to an agreement that Musk wouldn’t communicate about specific topics without advance approval from a Tesla lawyer.
A judge in April 2022 rejected Musk’s request to be freed from that oversight, which has become known as his “Twitter Sitter.” He has asked a federal appeals court to throw out the deal he made with the SEC.
In a separate case over the August 2018 tweets, Musk prevailed this year at a jury trial over claims by Tesla shareholders that he misled and defrauded them.
Musk also won a 2019 jury trial over defamation claims by a British cave diver whom the billionaire called “pedo guy” when the two traded insults on Twitter.
U.S. labor law lets companies express negative predictions on the consequences of unionizing, but bars them from threatening to punish employees for doing so.
The Labor Board case began with allegations filed in 2017 by the UAW. Tesla argued in court that “reasonable” workers wouldn’t read Musk’s tweet as a retaliatory threat.
The NLRB lacks the authority to make companies pay punitive damages for violations, or to hold executives personally liable.
An NLRB spokesperson had no immediate comment and representatives of the UAW didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.