Court: Franchisee legally fired Jimmy John's workers protesting sick-leave policy

A Jimmy John’s restaurant owned by MikLin Enterprises.

A Jimmy John’s restaurant owned by MikLin Enterprises. Star Tribune

Back in 2011, MikLin Enterprises -- which operates 10 Twin Cities Jimmy John's franchises -- made international headlines when it fired six workers who protested the company's sick-leave policy

In March, a three-judge panel backed a 2014 National Labor Relations Board ruling that sided with the axed Jimmy John's workers. But on Monday, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling.

Protest posters distributed by the workers were "so disloyal," the court concluded, that the workers' actions were not protected by federal labor law. Here's a refresher on those "disloyal" posters, which took issue with MikLin's policy against workers calling in sick unless they'd found a replacement for their shifts: 

Industrial Workers of the World -- a trade union that was attempting to unionize workers at the 10 Jimmy John's locations -- distributed the posters to more than 100 media outlets.  

"This is old-school vicious anti-union behavior, like you'd see before workers had any rights at all," Erik Forman, one of the fired workers, told City Pages in 2011. "You can't fire workers for organizing activities -- we're filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board today."

In its ruling Monday, the 8th Circuit Appeals Court cited precedent set in a 1953 U.S. Supreme Court case. The gist: Legally, companies are protected when firing workers who attack products instead of labor practices.

The fired Jimmy John's workers' "sharp, public, disparaging attack upon the quality of the company's product and its business policies" could have had a "devastating impact" on the Jimmy John's franchises, the court ruled. 

The court agreed with one aspect of the previous ruling: MikLin violated labor law when it allowed supervisors to encourage the harassment of David Boehnke, a vocally pro-union Jimmy John's worker.