9th Circuit Court of Appeals Holds Unions are Not Required to Reimburse Mandatory Fees Paid before January 2018
Posted on September 09, 2022
Important takeaways: In 2018, in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, & Municipalities Employees the Supreme Court of the United States held that public-sector unions cannot collect agency fees from non-union public employees (employees who chose not to join the union). After this decision, many employees filed suit to be reimbursed for union fees. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that neither municipalities (counties, cities, etc.) nor private parties (unions) had to reimburse these fees that were paid before January 2018. The court found that both could rely on the good faith exception that prior to 2018 they were allowed to collect these fees under previous Supreme Court rulings.
Facts: In 2018, the Supreme Court held that public-sector unions may not collect agency fees from non-union public employees. Employees that had not chosen to join a union and did not align with union stances, did not have to pay mandatory fees to the union. After this holding, several employees filed a class action suit in California asking to retroactively recover any agency fees taken from their salaries by the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers Association (the Union) and Santa Clara County (The County). The Union stopped collecting fees after the Janus decision, but the employees wanted reimbursement for fees previously taken. The Union moved to dismiss based on a good faith defense relying on pre-Janus law and the case against them was dismissed. The only matter in this case undecided was whether that same good faith exception also applied to municipalities, here, the County. The 9th Circuit held that the County relied on the same Supreme Court decisions and state law when complying with the mandatory agency fee system. They found nothing in the law that suggests municipalities would be liable when Unions were not.
In another case, the 9th Circuit also denied Thomas Few’s motion on claims in a matter involving paying dues to a teacher’s union. In 2016 Few signed a “United Teacher Los Angeles Membership Application,” this application included the authorization of a payroll deduction in the amount of the union dues. In 2018 Few filled out another document agreeing to accept membership and pay dues via payroll deduction. Later in 2018 Few mailed a letter saying he resigns from membership in all levels of UTLA and a request to thereafter pay pro-rated dues only in exchange for representation and not for any nonchargeable activities. On July 13, 2018. UTLA responded and say that Few could terminate his membership and become a Dues Paying Non-Member but would have to pay his dues until the open revocation period for that year. On August 8, Few sent another letter referencing Supreme Court Decision Janus and asking for resignation. UTLA held the same position as their previous letter. In November 2018, UTLA sent Few another response letter stating even though he had signed a separate obligation to pay dues, he would no longer be a member and they would reimburse him for his dues paid after the point in which he resigned. Few maintained that the deductions after his resignation were unconstitutional, even though he was reimbursed. The lower court found the issue to be moot since the same harm was not likely to occur to the same plaintiff. They also found that the good faith exception applied to the dues that were taken out of his pay prior to the Janus decision, meaning UTLA would not be responsible to repay those fees.
What this means: Municipalities and private parties (unions) can both rely on the good faith exception in following previous case law to avoid paying back mandatory union dues that were paid prior to the 2018 Janus decision.
What are the names of these cases and where can you read them? Allen v. Santa Clara Cnty. Corr. Peace Officers Ass’n, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, June 23, 2022. Read it here.
Few v. United Teachers L.A., United States District Court for the Central District of California, February 10, 2020, upheld by 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Jan. 27, 2022. Read it here.
As you consider these and other issues, we recommend you speak with your school lawyer or contact Bea, Megan, Beth, and Kevin by email or at 406-542-1300 to discuss these issues.