Lawsuit claiming public-sector employees must be informed of Janus rights dismissed


U.S. district judge dismisses Illinois teacher’s claim that public-sector unions must inform employees of Janus rights   

On March 28, Judge John F. Kness of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed an Illinois teacher’s lawsuit claiming that, under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, public-sector unions are obligated to inform prospective members of their right not to join or pay fees to a union.

In Janus, the Supreme Court said, “States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees. … By agreeing to pay, nonmembers are waiving their First Amendment rights, and such a waiver cannot be presumed. … Rather, to be effective, the waiver must be freely given and shown by ‘clear and compelling’ evidence. … Unless employees clearly and affirmatively consent before any money is taken from them, this standard cannot be met.”

Parties to the suit

The plaintiff was Ariadna Ramon Baro, a public school teacher who moved to Illinois from Spain in 2019 as part of an exchange program. The defendants were the Lake County Federation of Teachers Local 504 and Waukegan Community Unit School District #60.

About the case 

The Liberty Justice Center, which represented Baro, described the case as part of a “new line of workers’ rights cases … that seek to ensure that government employers and unions do not withhold union dues from employees unless they first ensure that such employees have knowledge of their Janus rights by informing them of such rights.”

Baro filed her lawsuit against the union and school district on April 3, 2020, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Baro’s attorneys alleged that “neither the District nor Lake County Federation of Teachers … informed her of her right not to pay dues or fees to Local 504. Instead, a presentation by representatives of Local 504 made at her orientation … left Ms. Baro with the impression that she was required to join and pay money to Local 504. She could not, therefore, have made a knowing and intelligent waiver of her right to not pay money to the union.” Baro also said she received an email in which a union representative said, “Just to clarify, you will pay union dues regardless of whether or not you are a member,” a statement which Baro did not realize was incorrect. “By holding Ms. Baro to the union card she signed without a knowing waiver of her rights,” the complaint said, “Local 504 and the District are violating her First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of association.”

Baro asked the court to “[d]eclare that her signing of a union card cannot provide a basis for her affirmative consent to waive her First Amendment rights upheld in Janus because such authorization was given without knowing and intelligent waiver of her First Amendment rights.” 

According to the Cook County Record, “About 12 days [after Baro filed her lawsuit], the union sent her a letter confirming she was no longer a union member, and included a check for $829, representing all the dues she had paid to that point, plus $500. … Baro then amended her lawsuit, including a demand for unspecified punitive damages against the union.”

The union and school district filed motions to dismiss the amended complaint on Aug. 3, 2020. 

The court’s decision

Judge John F. Kness dismissed the case on March 28. Citing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit’s ruling in Bennett v. AFSCME Council 31 (2021), the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Belgau v. Inslee (2020), and the Northern District of Illinois’ ruling in Troesch v. Chicago Teachers Union (2021), Kness wrote

“Even accepting Plaintiff’s erroneous beliefs as true, Plaintiff’s claim fails as a matter of law. As explained above, Plaintiff voluntarily joined the union. As for Plaintiff’s suggestion that her choice is not binding because it was ill-informed, the Court is aware of no authority (including Janus) that imposes a duty of informed consent to apply for membership in a union. Put differently, Janus did not mandate the workplace equivalent of Miranda warnings before an employee’s application to join a public-sector union could be presumed valid. … Plaintiff’s voluntary act of signing and submitting a union membership application card means that the concern in Janus—nonmembers being forced to pay union dues—is not present here.” 

“In sum, Plaintiff’s complaint does not raise a right to relief beyond the speculative level. … Plaintiff may now regret her earlier decision to join the Union, but that does not render her knowing and voluntary choice nonconsensual. Unlike the proscribed conduct by Janus’ employer, the District’s deductions of dues from Plaintiff’s earnings were made in compliance with Plaintiff’s explicit written instructions. … In the light of Plaintiff’s voluntary agreement to pay union dues, and in the absence of any legitimate claim of compulsion, Plaintiff has failed to state a First Amendment claim against Defendants.”

President Donald Trump (R) nominated Kness to the court in 2019.

Baro has 30 days from the judgment entered on March 29 to file a notice of appeal. 

The case name and number are Ramon Baro v. Lake County Federation of Teachers Local 504 et al. (1:20-cv-02126). 

What we’re reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 134 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking. 

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s) 

Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of relevant legislative actions taken since our last issue.

  • California AB1714: This bill would allow unions representing excluded state employees to request arbitration with the Department of Human Resources in certain circumstances.  
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing April 6, referred to suspense file. 
  • California SB931: This bill would allow a union to bring a claim before the Public Employment Relations Board against a public employer allegedly in violation of California Government Code Section 3550 and sets civil penalties for violations. Section 3550 prohibits public employers from discouraging union membership. 
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Senate Judiciary Committee hearing scheduled for April 19.  
  • California SB1313: This bill would prohibit Los Angeles County from discriminating against union members by limiting employee health benefits.
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee hearing held April 4. Committee recommends “do pass.” Re-referred to Senate Judiciary Committee April 5.  
  • California SB1406: This bill would allow unions representing excluded state employees to request arbitration with the Department of Human Resources in certain circumstances.  
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee hearing held April 4. Committee recommends “do pass.” Bill re-referred to Senate Judiciary Committee with the recommendation, “to consent calendar.” Senate Judiciary Committee hearing scheduled for April 19. 
  • New York A00243: This bill would allow public-sector labor unions to reconsider and re-vote on written agreements that were initially voted down.
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Enacting clause stricken April 5, meaning that the bill is dead unless another assembly member chooses to sponsor it.
  • Ohio HB612: This bill would amend the law to allow juvenile court and juvenile detention center employees who do not perform a judicial function to bargain collectively as public employees. 
    • Bipartisan sponsorship. 
    • Referred to House Commerce and Labor Committee April 5. 
  • Rhode Island S2244: This bill would establish a method of dispute arbitration for municipal employees, who are not allowed to strike. It would allow arbitration decisions to be petitioned to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.   
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Senate Labor Committee hearing held April 6. 
  • Washington HB2124: This bill, which would give state legislative branch employees the right to bargain collectively, would create an office of state legislative labor relations to “[e]xamine issues related to collective bargaining for employees of the house of representatives, the senate, and legislative agencies” and to “develop best practices and options for the legislature to consider in implementing and administering collective bargaining.” A final report would be due to the legislature by Oct. 1, 2023. No collective bargaining agreement could take effect until July 1, 2025. Employees would not be allowed to strike. 
    • Democratic sponsorship. 
    • Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed on March 31. Effective June 9, 2022.