Connecticut State Employees File Lawsuit After Union Officials Refuse Refunds
CSEA officials forced nonmember employees to pay fees in violation of the Constitution as recognized in Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision
Washington, DC (November 2, 2020) – National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys just filed a petition for writ of certiorari at the U.S. Supreme Court for two Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection employees, in their class action lawsuit to require Connecticut State Employees Association (CSEA SEIU Local 2001) union officials to return forced dues money seized from them and their coworkers in violation of their First Amendment rights.
The employees, Kiernan Wholean and James Grillo, maintain that CSEA union bosses and State of Connecticut officials infringed on the First Amendment rights recognized in the landmark Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision. In Janus, which was decided in June 2018, the Court held that no public sector employee can be required to pay dues as a condition of employment, and further ruled that dues deductions from any public employee’s paycheck can only be made with the employee’s affirmative and knowing waiver of the right not to pay.
Wholean and Grillo, who are not members of CSEA, originally filed their case in 2018 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut shortly before the High Court decided Janus. The State ceased deducting dues from their paychecks at CSEA’s behest following a letter to the State Comptroller from a National Right to Work Foundation attorney which threatened legal action for any dues deductions from non-members that continued after Janus. However, CSEA union officials continue to refuse to refund dues that they took from Wholean, Grillo, and other nonmembers in violation of the Janus First Amendment standard before the decision, even though they knew the employees never consented to pay.
The District Court, and later the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, both accepted CSEA lawyers’ so-called “good faith” argument for letting union bosses keep the dues collected in violation of the nonmembers’ constitutional rights. Wholean and Grillo’s Foundation staff attorneys argue in their petition to the Supreme Court that such a defense has never existed under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, the statute under which the lawsuit is brought. Section 1983 specifically imposes liability on those who violate the constitutional rights of others while acting “under color of” existing law.
The Supreme Court has never addressed whether there is a “good faith” defense under Section 1983. In a similar Foundation-backed case, two federal judges at the Third Circuit recently opined that such a defense does not exist, disagreeing with the decisions of other Circuits. Wholean and Grillo’s petition cites this confusion as a vital reason why the High Court should hear their case. If successful, their lawsuit could result in CSEA repaying potentially millions in forced union fees seized from June 13, 2015, until Connecticut stopped the deductions, in accordance with Connecticut’s statute of limitations.
Wholean and Grillo’s petition is now the sixth under consideration by the Supreme Court in which public employees seek refunds for dues taken in contravention of the First Amendment before the Janus ruling. Four of these petitions have been filed by Foundation staff attorneys.
Among those petitions is the continuation of the original Janus plaintiff Mark Janus’ case, who suffered from unconstitutional deductions while employed as a child support specialist for the State of Illinois. If the Supreme Court decides in the petitioners’ favor in any of these cases, it could set a precedent triggering the return of hundreds of millions in illegal dues dollars in cases across the country.
“The lower courts have allowed CSEA union bosses to profit from their past unconstitutional deductions, trampling the Janus rights of Mr. Wholean, Mr. Grillo and their coworkers,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “With six petitions on this issue now pending with the High Court and more to be filed soon, it is time the Supreme Court hears this issue and ends the denial of justice for tens of thousands of nonmember government employees whose First Amendment rights were violated.”
“Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, the federal statute under which all these cases were filed, was specifically intended to allow individuals to remedy the deprivation of their rights when it occurs under color of law,” added Mix. “Given Section 1983’s intent, it is outrageous that union bosses have thus far been allowed to keep money seized in violation of the First Amendment because it was authorized by then-existing but unconstitutional law. That result is especially specious because, as the Supreme Court recognized in Janus, union bosses have been ‘on notice’ from the Court since 2012 that forcing government employees to pay union fees was likely unconstitutional.”
If you have questions about whether union officials are violating your rights, contact the Foundation for free help.