Union officials from the Hartford Federation of Teachers (HFT) refused to help John Grande—a P.E. teacher in the Hartford Public Schools system for more than 30 years—with a workplace grievance for one reason: He wasn’t a union member. But Connecticut law requires union officials to fairly represent all employees, not just union members.
John’s union put his career in jeopardy by, as the Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations would later rule, illegally discriminating against him.
Teacher Targeted for Discipline after ‘Privilege’ Training
In the fall of 2020, John attended a mandatory training on racial and gender “privilege.” During a breakout session, he was asked for his opinion on the training and John expressed disagreement. Months later, the district administration launched an investigation because of his response and issued a written reprimand, requiring him to undergo “sensitivity training” and threatening further discipline—even termination.
HFT Illegally Withholds Services
John fought this unwarranted discipline and contacted the HFT, knowing that per his employment contract, only the union can start the arbitration process. But an HFT vice president told him via email that “arbitration is reserved for dues-paying members.” John was trapped and unable to defend himself in arbitration because the union refused to treat him fairly—until he found the Fairness Center.
Teacher Files Charges Against Union
With the help of the Fairness Center, John filed unfair labor practices charges in July of 2022, arguing that Connecticut law required the teachers’ union to fairly represent all members of John’s bargaining unit, without discrimination and regardless of their membership status. However, that principle had never been clearly stated by the Connecticut labor board.
Union Back-Peddles Just before Board Hearing
HFT officials reversed course days before a conference with the state labor board and agreed to represent John in arbitration. But in July 2023, an arbiter refused the union’s request because it had missed the filing deadline by more than six months. Union officials’ failure to timely file for arbitration prevented John from having the merits of his grievance heard.
Ruling Vindicates Teacher, Slams Union’s Behavior
In August 2023, the Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations ruled in John’s favor.
In its decision, the Board found “direct evidence of purposeful discrimination” by the union because of John’s union membership status and ruled that the union, therefore, illegally withheld services from him.
The Board took the union to task, calling its defense “wholly frivolous”:
“In this case, we think that the Union’s arguments that [the HFT vice president’s] conduct was something other than intentional discrimination based on an unlawful consideration present no debatable issue and are wholly frivolous in light of the undisputed facts in this case.”
The Board further found that union officials’ discrimination against John “necessarily coerces employees in the exercise of a protected right”—the right to join or not join the union. The Board ordered the HFT to stop refusing services to John, to post the decision and ruling for 60 days in a place where employees often assemble, and to pay all of his attorney’s fees with interest.
Teacher’s Victory Expands Rights of Connecticut Public Employees
For the first time, Connecticut has acknowledged that nonmembers must be treated equally to members when it comes to arbitration.
“The Board’s ruling couldn’t be more clear: a public-sector union official cannot use an employee’s membership status as the basis for discrimination,” said Nathan McGrath, president and general counsel for the Fairness Center. “John’s resounding victory solidifies the rights of every Connecticut public employee who chooses not to be a member of a union.”
Reacting to the Board’s ruling, John said, “The state labor board has reached a decision that holds union officials accountable for shirking their legal duty to fairly represent me.” He continued, “In my life and career, I’ve always helped others where and when I can, so the fact that my fight has protected the rights of teachers and other public employees is extremely gratifying.”
Grande v. Hartford Federation of Teachers was decided by the Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations in our client’s favor.