J & J Worldwide Service employee Dorothy Frame, who works at Fort Campbell’s Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, is hitting Laborers’ International Union (LIUNA) officials at her workplace with a federal lawsuit for religious discrimination. She asserts that union officials are making her violate her Catholic religious beliefs by forcing her to fund the union’s activities through dues payments, despite her opposition to the union’s stance on abortion. Frame is receiving free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
According to her lawsuit, Frame in July 2019 “sent a letter informing [LIUNA] of the conflict between her religious beliefs and the requirement that she join or pay the Union.” Tennessee has a Right to Work law ensuring that private sector workers inside the state’s borders cannot be compelled to pay dues as a condition of employment. However, Fort Campbell is a “federal enclave” not subject to state law, and J & J management and LIUNA union bosses maintain a contract forcing employees to pay a portion of union dues to keep their jobs.
Frame’s July 2019 letter requested a religious accommodation, her lawsuit says, and included a message from her parish priest backing her position. Federal law prohibits unions from discriminating against employees on the basis of religion, and accommodations of religious objections to dues payment often consist of permitting a dissenting worker to instead contribute the dues amount to a charity.
“Ms. Frame believes that abortion is a grave sin,” her lawsuit details. “She believes joining or financially supporting the Unions would make her complicit in that sin because she believes that the Unions support and promote abortion. Thus, she believes that any money the Unions collect from her makes her complicit in sin and violates her religious beliefs.”
A response to Frame’s letter from a LIUNA lawyer came the following month, her lawsuit notes, criticizing her accommodation request and demanding that she “prove that her beliefs ‘meet the standard for a “legitimate justification.”’” The union lawyer also claimed that “Ms. Frame’s understanding of her faith was inferior to his own understanding of her faith” and even closed the letter by “sending Ms. Frame – and her priest – remedial church readings.” One of Frame’s attorneys sent a letter in September 2019 demonstrating how the accommodation request conformed to various church teachings, but nonetheless LIUNA bosses continued to take dues from Frame’s paycheck until November 2019.
Frame filed a discrimination charge against LIUNA with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in December 2019. Even after EEOC proceedings and additional letters from her attorney demonstrating the union’s various forms of support for abortion, Frame’s lawsuit explains, union officials still refused to accommodate her beliefs. LIUNA bosses also “refuse to return any money they collected from Ms. Frame” after she had requested an accommodation.
Frame’s attorneys have now taken the fight to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. The suit charges LIUNA with religious discrimination for its officials’ “refusing to accommodate her religious beliefs” and “deducting money from her pay when they knew that doing so would violate her religious beliefs.” The complaint also charges LIUNA with quid pro quo religious harassment for telling Frame “she must pay the Unions money and violate her religious beliefs,” or be fired.
Frame’s lawsuit asks that the court declare “she has the right to a religious accommodation that alleviates her obligation to join or support the Unions” and that LIUNA return all money they seized from her wages in violation of her religious beliefs, plus pay “damages for emotional pain, suffering, and mental anguish that she suffered because the Unions repeatedly challenged and disparaged her religious beliefs.”
“LIUNA officials have put their arrogance and callousness on full display by forcing Ms. Frame to choose between losing her job and severely compromising her religious beliefs,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Denying an individual a simple religious accommodation is a clear violation of federal law, and Foundation attorneys will fight for Ms. Frame until she gets one.”
“However, Big Labor’s government-granted privilege to force fees out of workers as a job condition allowed this kind of abuse to happen – no American worker should be forced to subsidize unwanted union activities just to keep his or her job,” Mix added.