Title VII Applies to Labor Organizations

By April 8, 2014April 29th, 2015News

In Green v. American Federation of Teachers and Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 604, Robert Green, an Aurora East School District No. 131 teacher, sued the AFT and the IFT Local 604 for refusing to file a grievance on his behalf and refusing to represent him in a suit against the district based on his race and in retaliation for his earlier opposition to discrimination.

When the district terminated Green, the Union refused to file a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement on Green’s behalf. The Union also refused to represent him in a suit against the district. Green represented himself arguing that the district violated the Teacher Tenure Act, won the suit and was reinstated.

Green, who is African American, alleged that the union represented comparable white employees in grievance proceedings and in litigation under the Tenure Act. He argued that the Union refused to represent him because of his race and because he had opposed prior race discrimination by the Union. The district court noted that Green’s evidence was “conclusory” and it improperly found that even if the Union had blatantly discriminated against Green, he could not succeed because a union cannot be liable under Title VII unless it first violates a duty created by a statute or contract.

The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded the district court’s opinion, explaining that a claim against a labor organization for discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII does not require a showing that either the employer or labor organization violated any state statute or contract. The Seventh Circuit provided that labor organizations should be treated the same way employers are treated under Title VII. The Seventh Circuit reiterated that the prima facie case to establish discrimination under Title VII by an employer or by a labor organization does not include an element that depends on breaking a contract and, therefore, a court cannot properly add this element.

The Seventh Circuit remanded the case, instructing the district court to allow discovery on the issues rather than quickly condemning Green’s statements as “conclusory” or “self-serving.” Further, the Seventh Circuit noted that if the court finds that the Union would have processed Green’s grievance or represented him in a suit against the district had he been white or had he refrained from complaining about prior discrimination, then it must find that the Union violated Title VII.