Cincinnati, OH (November 12, 2019) — With free legal aid from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Ripley Union Lewis Huntington School District bus driver Donna Fizer has just won a settlement requiring Ohio Association of Public School Employees/AFSCME Local 4 (OAPSE) union bosses to refund to her dues they seized from her paycheck in violation of her First Amendment rights.
Fizer’s victory comes after she hit OAPSE officials with a federal lawsuit contending that dues seizures they had made from her paycheck after she resigned her union membership infringed her rights under the Foundation-won Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision. Janus, which the High Court issued in June 2018, mandates that no public employee can be required to pay union fees as a condition of employment, and that union fees can only be collected from a public employee with an “affirmative and knowing” waiver of his or her First Amendment rights.
Fizer notified school board officials in September 2018 that she was “immediately withdrawing [her union] membership” and exercising her First Amendment Janus right to cut off union dues deductions. The school district treasurer quickly complied and stopped the deductions from her paycheck, but OAPSE bosses responded by filing a grievance which alleged that Fizer could not revoke except within a tiny, union-created “escape period” that occurs only 10 days every few years. OAPSE officials demanded in the grievance that the district “make OAPSE whole for all lost dues” and continue to take dues from her wages.
Though the district initially rebuffed the union’s request and responded that “the district will honor the Supreme Court ‘Janus Decision,’” later arbitration proceedings forced by OAPSE upheld the enforcement of the narrow “escape period.” The arbitrator ordered the district to continue seizing dues from Fizer’s paycheck and to seize an additional sum to “make OAPSE whole” for the time period in which the district honored Fizer’s Janus request and stopped deductions.
Fizer fought back by filing a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio with free legal aid from Foundation staff attorneys. The complaint argued that OAPSE’s “escape period” imposed an illegal hindrance on public employees’ ability to exercise their First Amendment rights under Janus.
Rather than face Foundation staff attorneys and the Janus precedent in federal court, union officials settled the case. OAPSE bosses have returned to Fizer all the dues they took from her paycheck since the date of her membership revocation, and have notified the district to “cease any further deduction of union dues from her paycheck.”
Foundation staff attorneys have been at the forefront of the fight to defend public employees’ rights under Janus, currently litigating over two dozen cases around the country to enforce the landmark decision. Most recently, Foundation staff attorneys won a settlement for New Mexico information technology worker David McCutcheon and his coworkers, who collectively received over $15,000 in refunds of dues seized by Communications Workers of America (CWA) bosses in violation of their Janus rights.
“Ms. Fizer’s win should serve as another reminder that public sector union bosses cannot legally limit public employees’ First Amendment rights through ‘escape periods’ and other similar schemes,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “The Foundation will continue to offer free legal aid so workers can bring more lawsuits to ensure that public employees’ Janus rights are fully enforced.”