A federal appeals court has reversed a National Labor Relations Board ruling and held that registered nurses at a nursing home in Tennessee are supervisors ineligible for unionization.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on Tuesday vacated the board's April 2012 ruling that RNs at Golden Living's Springfield, Tenn., nursing home were not supervisors under the National Labor Relations Act. The court also granted the center's petition for review and denied the board's application to enforce its order.

GGNSC Springfield v. NLRB concerned the discretion of the center's RNs to handle certain types of misconduct by certified nursing assistants. The RNs can choose to take no action, provide verbal counseling or file an employee memorandum. An employee memorandum automatically leads to a written warning and is part of the center's disciplinary system.

Shortly after a board's regional director's November 2011 ruling that the RNs were not supervisors, the nurses elected a union. The center refused to bargain with the union and the board case continued.

Circuit Judge Richard Allen Griffin wrote the opinion, joined by Eric L. Clay.

Senior Judge Gilbert S. Merritt filed a dissent.

Griffin wrote that "because RNs exercise independent judgment in choosing whether to issue a memoranda or provide verbal counseling, they are supervisors under the Act. The Board's failure to acknowledge that receipt of a written warning is itself discipline renders its contrary determination unsupported by substantial evidence."

In his dissent, Merritt wrote that the majority "engages in linguistic wordplay" over the word discipline without trying to understand the statutory language.

Merritt wrote that the RNs' write-ups are "simply informational" and that they don't exercise the required independent judgment to be deemed supervisors.

The majority adopted a broad standard "designed simply to foreclose collective bargaining, avoid unions, and go back to the unstable labor management relations that existed prior to the New Deal," Merritt wrote.

The board did not respond to a request for comment.

"Our client believes that an employer is in the best position to determine what supervisory personnel it needs to provide the best services possible," said Chuck Roesch, chairman of the labor and employment department at Dinsmore & Shohl in Cincinnati, which represented the company. Dinsmore's Michael Manzler argued for Golden Living.

"The Sixth Circuit recognized and appropriately reviewed the evidence and applied it to who is a supervisor under the act," said Cliff Nelson, who co-chairs the labor relations practice group at Atlanta-based Constangy, Brooks & Smith, but who wasn't involved in the case.

Sheri Qualters can be contacted at squalters@alm.com.