Lawsuit joins others pending at the Supreme Court seeking refunds of forced union fees seized from nonmembers in violation of Janus v. AFSCME
Washington, DC (October 9, 2020) – Yesterday, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys filed a petition for certiorari, asking the United States Supreme Court to hear the case of Nathaniel Ogle. Ogle is an employee of the Ohio Department of Taxation who, despite never being a member, still had mandatory union fees deducted from his paycheck by officials of the Ohio affiliate of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union.
In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in Janus v AFSCME that it is unconstitutional to require public sector employees like Ogle to subsidize union activities. Soon after, Ogle filed his class action lawsuit seeking a return of fees seized before the Janus decision from himself and potentially thousands of other state employees.
AFSCME officials have thus far relied on the so-called “good faith” defense to avoid paying back money they took from nonmembers before the ruling in violation of the First Amendment as Janus recognized. However, in the Janus decision, not only did the Supreme Court not rule out retroactive relief, it also observed that union officials have been “on notice” for years that mandatory fees likely would not comply with the High Court’s heightened level of First Amendment scrutiny articulated in the 2012 Knox v. SEIU Supreme Court decision.
Foundation staff attorneys argue that in addition to there being no valid basis for the “good faith” defense under existing law, AFSCME officials also understood the dubious constitutionality of what they were doing when they extracted payments from nonmembers but still went forward with their legally suspect collection of forced union fees.
Ogle’s case was dismissed by the district court in July of 2019. A three judge panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals later held that the union could avoid paying back its victims, despite the Supreme Court’s assertion that unions had been “on notice,” leading to today’s petition for a writ of certiorari.
Ogle is the fifth dues repayment case the Court is being asked to consider. The other four, including Foundation-backed cases Casanova v. IAM and the Janus case itself, are fully briefed and scheduled to be considered at the Court’s October 9th conference. Foundation staff attorneys are actively litigating about 20 of these cases which collectively seek the return of an estimated $130 million or more in forced union fees seized from workers in violation of the First Amendment.
In a recent supplemental brief in Janus, Mark Janus’ attorneys from the National Right to Work Foundation and Illinois-based Liberty Justice Center point out that two of three judges on a panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently opined that the “good faith” defense is invalid, while other federal judges have upheld it. This, they argue, makes it especially vital that the Court hear the case to clear up the confusion among lower courts and ultimately reject this spurious argument allowing union officials to profit from violating workers’ constitutional rights.
“The so-called ‘good faith’ defense, which permits union bosses to continue to ignore an established Supreme Court precedent, has already been rejected by two federal judges. It is vital that the Supreme Court take up this issue to disabuse all lower courts of this flawed argument, and to ensure that the victims of union officials’ First Amendment violations finally get some justice,” National Right to Work President Mark Mix said. “The Court already ruled in Janus that public workers cannot be forced to pay union dues. It is past time for the victims of these First Amendment violations, including Mr. Ogle and his coworkers, to receive justice.”
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, assists thousands of employees in more than 250 cases nationwide per year.