Seven California teachers have filed a class action to claw back union fees that were collected, they claim, in violation of their constitutional rights.
The suit, filed on Monday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, is among the first filed since the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 27 decision in Janus v. AFSCME. In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court struck down fees used to cover collective bargaining costs after finding they unconstitutionally violated the First Amendment rights of the plaintiffs, nonunion members who disagreed with the union’s political views.
“The lawsuit we filed is a refund of the fees that were illegally extracted,” said John Bursch of Bursch Law in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who along with the Clark Hill law firm filed the class action on behalf of California’s public school teachers. He said 20 other lawsuits across the country seek similar refunds—although some of those cases predate the Janus decision.
His suit named two national teacher unions—the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers—and three California unions. It also named nine local unions, nine school districts and nine school superintendents and chancellors.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, described the suit as politically motivated, noting that Janus did not require the return of past fees.
“As we have said repeatedly, these efforts by right-wing forces to weaponize the First Amendment and overrule 40 years of precedent—through a 5-4 decision in Janus—are intended to defund unions by starving them of the resources they need to secure a pathway to the middle class and a voice at work for working people,” Weingarten wrote. “The AFT and its affiliates are taking great care to comply with the Janus decision, regardless of how wrongheaded we think it is.”
Spokespeople for the National Education Association and California Teachers Association declined to comment.
Bursch said he expected each teacher to be seeking “a couple thousand dollars” in fees paid over the past three years. The plaintiffs claim they resigned their union membership but still had “fair share service fees” taken out of their paychecks.
At least four of the plaintiffs brought a previous case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association that resulted in a case where the justices tied, 4-4, shortly after Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016.