National Right to Work Foundation staff attorneys just filed the final brief in a Las Vegas police officer’s federal lawsuit defending her First Amendment right to abstain from union dues deductions. The case is now fully briefed and ready to be decided by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) officer Melodie DePierro is challenging an “escape period” enforced by officials of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association (PPA) union as an infringement of her constitutional rights recognized in the 2018 Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision. DePierro ended her PPA membership in 2020.
The High Court in Janus ruled that forcing public sector workers to subsidize an unwanted union hierarchy as a condition of employment violates the First Amendment. It also declared that union officials can only deduct dues from a public sector employee who has voluntarily waived his or her Janus rights.
DePierro’s Foundation staff attorneys argue in her reply brief that PPA union officials’ “escape period” policy, which forbids her for over 90% of the year from exercising her First Amendment right to cut off union dues deductions, is a blatant violation of Janus.
Further, Foundation attorneys point out that, even though DePierro was a union member years ago, she never consented to being controlled by the “escape period,” which union and police department officials added to the contract without her knowledge. The policy was also absent from the union membership card she signed.
“That a 20-day escape period restriction on employees’ right to revoke was added to a subsequent [contract] does not mean LVPPA can enforce such limitation without first seeking employees’ affirmative consent. DePierro’s First Amendment right against compelled speech and union subsidization would have been protected had LVPPA bothered to seek such consent from her in advance,” Foundation staff attorneys argue.
PPA Union Officials Try to Impose on Officer Contract Provision She Never Knew About
According to DePierro’s complaint, she began working for LVMPD in 2006 and voluntarily joined the PPA union at that time. Her response explains that in 2006 the union monopoly bargaining contract permitted employees to terminate dues deductions “at will.”
In January 2020 she first tried to exercise her Janus rights, sending letters to both union officials and the LVMPD that she was resigning her membership. The letters demanded a stop to union dues being taken from her paycheck.
Her complaint reported that union and police department agents rejected that request because of a union-imposed “escape period” restriction previously unknown to DePierro that limits when employees can exercise their Janus rights. Union agents rebuffed her again after she renewed her demands in February 2020. When she filed her lawsuit, full union dues were still coming out of her paycheck.
DePierro’s most recent filing in the case refutes a number of union arguments, notably contending that her past union membership did not give the union and police department free reign to create new restrictions on her rights. It also criticizes the lower court for ruling that it was “immaterial” that DePierro never consented to the restrictive revocation period.
“DePierro’s membership form is not a blank check for LVPPA and LVMPD to invent and impose new revocation restrictions against her will, resulting in the forceful seizure of hard-earned wages in violation of her First Amendment right not to bankroll a union,” the brief says.
Vegas Police Officer Seeks to Force Union to Return Dues Seized in Violation of Her Rights
DePierro demands that the U.S. Circuit Court declare the “escape period” scheme unconstitutional, forbid PPA and LVMPD from further enforcing it, and order PPA and LVMPD to refund with interest all dues that were unlawfully withheld from her pay since she tried to stop the deductions.
“The Supreme Court was perfectly clear in Janus that public employees must affirmatively waive their First Amendment rights before union bosses take dues from their wages,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “That PPA union bosses are refusing to give back money they took in obvious violation of this standard is outrageous, and clearly shows that they value dues revenue over the rights of officers they claim to ‘represent’ – including distinguished veterans like Officer DePierro.”
“The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals should uphold the correct interpretation of Janus. Foundation attorneys will keep fighting for Officer DePierro until her rights are vindicated,” Mix added.