Cuyahoga County probation officer Kimberlee Warren is suing the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) union in her workplace, charging union officials with breaching her First Amendment right as a public employee to refuse to support union activities. She is receiving free legal representation from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys.
Foundation staff attorneys contend that FOP union officials ignored her constitutional rights recognized in the landmark 2018 Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court decision, which was argued and won by Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys.
In Janus, the Justices declared it a First Amendment violation to force any public sector employee to pay union dues or fees as a condition of keeping his or her job. The Court also ruled that public employers and unions cannot take union dues or fees from a public sector employee unless they obtain that employee’s affirmative consent.
The federal lawsuit says that Warren was not a member of the FOP union before the Janus decision in June 2018, but FOP union bosses collected union dues from her wages without her consent. According to the complaint, this continued until around December 2020, when Warren notified union officials that they were violating her First Amendment rights by taking the money and demanded that the union stop the coerced deductions and return all money that they had taken from her paycheck since the Janus decision.
When the deductions ended, FOP chiefs refused to give back the money that they had already seized from Warren in violation of her First Amendment rights. They claimed the deductions had appeared on her check stub and thus any responsibility to cease the deductions fell on her – even though to her knowledge they had never obtained permission to opt her into membership or to take cash from her paycheck in the first place.
According to the lawsuit, Warren also asked FOP bosses to provide any dues deduction authorization document she might have signed. FOP officials rebuffed this request as well.
The High Court ruled in Janus that, because all activities public sector unions undertake involve lobbying the government and thus are political speech, forcing a public employee to pay any union dues or fees as a condition of keeping his or her job is forced political speech the First Amendment forbids.
Union bosses were permitted by state law before the Janus ruling to seize from nonmember workers’ paychecks only the part of dues they claimed went toward “representational” activities. FOP union officials took this amount from Warren prior to Janus. However, they furtively designated her as a member following the decision, and began taking full dues, deducting even more money from her wages than they did before Janus despite the complete lack of any consent.
Warren is now suing the FOP union in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. Her lawsuit seeks the return of all dues that FOP union officials garnished from her paycheck since the Janus decision was handed down. It also seeks punitive damages because FOP showed “reckless, callous” indifference toward her First Amendment rights by snubbing her refund requests.
Warren’s lawsuit comes as other Foundation-backed lawsuits for employees defending their First Amendment Janus rights seek writs of certiorari from the Supreme Court. This includes cases brought for Chicago and New Jersey public educators which challenge “window periods” that severely limit when they and their fellow educators can exercise their First Amendment right to stop union dues deductions, sometimes to periods as short as ten days per year. In a California federal court, Foundation staff attorneys are also aiding a University of California Irvine lab assistant in fighting an anti-Janus state law that gives union bosses full control over whether employers can stop sending an employee’s money to the union after that employee exercises his or her Janus rights.
“All over the country, union officials are stopping at nothing to ensure they can continue ignoring workers’ First Amendment Janus rights and continue siphoning money from the paychecks of dissenting employees,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “After Janus was handed down, FOP union officials in Warren’s workplace could have come to her to attempt to get her to support the union voluntarily, but tellingly instead they began surreptitiously siphoning full dues out of her paycheck without her consent in direct contravention of the Supreme Court.”
“Despite her repeated requests, FOP bosses have continued to trample Warren’s Janus rights, and Foundation staff attorneys are fighting to stop this gross injustice against her and punish FOP bosses for their brazen behavior,” Mix added.