A Ripley Union Lewis Huntington Local School District bus driver Donna Fizer recently won a settlement requiring Ohio Association of Public School Employees/AFSCME Local 4 (OAPSE) to refund dues they collected from her paycheck in violation of her First Amendment rights.
Fizer filed a federal lawsuit contending that dues OAPSE had the district deduct from her paycheck after she resigned her union membership infringed her First Amendment rights. Fizer based her claim on the June 2018 United States Supreme Court’s decision Janus v. AFSCME, 585 U.S. ___, 138 S.Ct. 2448 (2018). The court held in Janus that no public employee can be required to pay union (fair share) 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 district officials in September 2018 that she was immediately withdrawing her union membership and exercising her First Amendment right, as described in Janus, to cease withholding her union dues deductions. The district treasurer complied and stopped deductions from her paycheck, but OAPSE responded by filing a grievance which alleged that Fizer could not revoke except within a 10-day long contractual escape period that occurred every few years. OAPSE officials demanded in the grievance that the district make OAPSE whole for all lost dues and continue to deduct dues from her wages.
Though the district initially responded that it would honor the Janus Decision, an arbitrator held that the district must continue deducting dues from Fizer’s paycheck. The arbitrator also ordered the district to deduct an additional sum to make OAPSE whole for the time period in which the district honored Fizer’s Janus request and stopped deductions.
Fizer then filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio and argued that OAPSE’s escape period imposed an illegal hindrance on public employees’ ability to exercise their First Amendment rights under Janus. OAPSE responded by settling the case, returned to Fizer all dues collected from her paycheck since the date of her membership revocation, and notified the district to cease any further deduction of union dues from her paycheck.