LVMPD officer argues union officials seized her money in violation of First Amendment through restrictive arrangement to which she never consented
Washington, DC (November 21, 2022) – Las Vegas police officer Melodie DePierro has submitted a petition asking the United States Supreme Court to hear her lawsuit defending her First Amendment right to abstain from paying dues to a union she does not support. DePierro is receiving free legal representation from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys.
DePierro, a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) officer, contends in the lawsuit that officials of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association (PPA) union seized dues money from her paycheck in violation of her First Amendment rights pursuant to a so-called “window period” specified in the union contract. PPA officials’ “window period” scheme prohibits police officers from opting out of union financial support for over 90% of the year. DePierro never consented to – nor was ever informed of – this limitation.
DePierro seeks to enforce her First Amendment rights recognized by the Supreme Court in the landmark 2018 Janus v. AFSCME case, which was argued and won by Foundation attorneys. The Justices ruled in Janus that forcing public sector workers to subsidize an unwanted union as a condition of employment violates the First Amendment. They also held that union officials can only deduct dues from a public sector employee who has affirmatively waived his or her Janus rights.
“[I]f employee consent is not required, governments and unions can, and will…devise and enforce onerous restrictions on when employees can stop subsidizing union speech,” reads the brief.
PPA Union Officials Imposed on Officer Contract Provision She Never Knew About
According to DePierro’s original complaint, she began working for LVMPD in 2006 and voluntarily joined the PPA union at that time. However, in 2006 the union monopoly bargaining contract permitted employees to terminate dues deductions at any time.
In January 2020, she first tried to exercise her Janus rights, sending letters to both union officials and the LVMPD stating that she was resigning her membership. The letters demanded a stop to union dues being taken from her paycheck.
Her complaint reported that union and police department agents rejected that request because of the union-imposed “window period” restriction previously unknown to DePierro that purportedly limits when employees can exercise their Janus rights. As her brief notes, that “window period” restriction was added in the 2019 monopoly bargaining contract between union officials and the police department, despite the fact Janus had already been decided by then.
DePierro never agreed to such a restriction on the exercise of her First Amendment rights, but union agents nonetheless rebuffed her again when she renewed her demand to stop dues deductions in February 2020. When she filed her lawsuit, full union dues were still coming out of her paycheck.
DePierro’s Supreme Court petition argues that, because union officials kept seizing money from her wages under the guise of the “window period,” and never sought her consent to the restriction, they violated the First Amendment. As per Janus, union officials must obtain a worker’s waiver of their Janus rights before deducting dues or fees from their pay. DePierro asks the High Court to declare the “window period” scheme unconstitutional, forbid PPA and LVMPD from further enforcing it, and order PPA and LVMPD to refund with interest all dues unlawfully withheld from her pay since she tried to stop the deductions.
“This Court’s review is urgently needed because the Ninth Circuit’s decision is allowing governments and unions to unilaterally decide when and how to restrict employees’ right to refrain from subsidizing union speech—without the need to secure their affirmative consent to the restriction,” asserts the brief.
Officer Joins California Lifeguards in Asking Justices to Uphold Janus Ruling
DePierro’s petition comes as 21 Foundation-represented Southern California lifeguards are also urging the Supreme Court to hear their case challenging an anti-Janus dues scheme concocted by California Statewide Law Enforcement Agency (CSLEA) union officials. That scheme has trapped the lifeguards in union membership and full dues deductions until 2023, despite each of the lifeguards exercising his or her Janus right to abstain from union membership and union financial support.
As in DePierro’s case, the lifeguards were not explicitly informed of the so-called “maintenance of membership” restriction which now confines them in membership and full dues payment. Moreover, union officials never obtained voluntary waivers of Janus rights from any of the lifeguards before subjecting them to this scheme.
“Janus’ First Amendment protections are meant to ensure that workers are not being forced to subsidize union bosses of whom they disapprove, whether based on union officials’ ineffectiveness, political activities, divisive conduct in the workplace, or any other reason,” commented National Right to Work Foundation President Mark Mix. “Union officials’ defense of schemes that siphon money out of unwilling workers’ paychecks sends a clear message that they value dues revenue over the constitutional rights of the workers they claim to ‘represent.’”
“Two parties, here the union and police department, cannot enter into an agreement to restrict the First Amendment rights of an American citizen, yet that is exactly what has happened here to Officer DePierro,” Mix added. “The Supreme Court must defend Janus rights against such obvious violations, and ensure that these unconstitutional schemes are not allowed to stand.”
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 about 200 cases nationwide per year.