Continuing to Deduct Union Dues Does Not Violate First Amendment Where Employee Signed Union Membership Agreement

In Baro v. Lake County Federation of Teachers Local 504, et al., the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of an Illinois teacher’s lawsuit claiming that the continued deduction of her union membership dues violated her First Amendment rights.

In August 2019, the teacher signed a union membership form that authorized the school district to deduct union dues from her paycheck for one year. The teacher claimed that, at the time she signed the agreement, she did not know union membership was optional. Once she learned that membership was optional, the teacher requested to revoke her membership and to cease the deduction of membership dues. The union informed the teacher that she must wait until the following August to resign membership and cease the dues deductions per the contents of the membership agreement.

The teacher filed a lawsuit, arguing that the dues deductions violated her First Amendment rights pursuant to the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Janus v. AFSCME in 2018.  In Janus, the Supreme Court found that the deduction of “fair share” fees from non-union members was a form of compelled speech in support of the union that violated public employees’ First Amendment rights.

The district court dismissed the teacher’s lawsuit, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal. The court contrasted the situation in this case, where the teacher voluntarily signed a membership agreement, with the decision in Janus, where employees did not consent to union membership.  The court ruled that signing the membership agreement was clear and compelling evidence that the employee waived her right not to join a union and consented to union dues deductions for a period of one year, precluding any First Amendment claim under Janus.  Furthermore, the fact that the teacher did not know union membership was optional was irrelevant where the agreement clearly stated that it was voluntary and irrevocable for a period of one year.

If you have any questions concerning the holding of this case, please contact Jason Manning or any attorney in our Labor and Personnel Practice Group.