Food and Commercial Workers v. Brown Group, Inc., 517 U.S. 544, 7 (1996)

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Opinion of the Court

closing or mass layoff, and would have permitted the union to sue to recover a penalty where an employer failed to provide the required notice. See S. 538, 100th Cong., 1st Sess. (1987). In the ultimately enacted version of the legislation, Congress eliminated this provision, with the result that the WARN Act no longer speaks to the "rights and welfare of unions," Brief for Respondent 12. Brown Shoe's argument is that the class of persons "similarly situated" is the class entitled to sue for damages, so that the elimination of the union's entitlement to a civil penalty requires the conclusion that the union is no longer "similarly situated" to "employees . . . aggrieved under paragraph (1)," and thus not permitted to sue under the Act.

The flaw in this argument is that it would force us to conclude that the provision for suits by unions is attributable only to congressional inadvertence, whereas inadvertence is not the only possible, or even plausible, explanation for the authorization. For one, the statutory reference to persons "similarly situated" can very readily be understood to mean the class of persons to whom notice is owed but not given. In this respect, the union and its members are certainly persons "similarly situated." Brown Shoe's argument also fails to explain why Congress would necessarily have intended to eliminate the union's power to sue on behalf of members (as Brown Shoe assumes the union could have done prior to the amendment) just because the union was no longer entitled to a penalty in its own right. The argument for Brown Shoe's preferred construction simply rests on one speculative possibility in opposing a straightforward reading of the provision that a union may bring suit on behalf of its members, who are "employees . . . aggrieved under paragraph (1)." Speculation loses, for the more natural reading of the statute's text, which would give effect to all of its provisions, always prevails over a mere suggestion to disregard or ignore duly enacted law as legislative oversight.

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