September 7, 2023, Hartford, Ct.—In a major decision that provides increased protections for Connecticut public employees, the State Board of Labor Relations has ruled that the Hartford Federation of Teachers (HFT) illegally discriminated against a Hartford teacher because he was not a dues-paying member.
“For the first time, the Board has explicitly stated that Connecticut law prohibits public-sector unions from discriminating against public employees solely on their membership status,” said Nathan McGrath, president and general counsel for the Fairness Center, which represents the complainant, John Grande.
Grande is a former HFT member who has taught physical education in Hartford Public Schools for more than 30 years. In 2020, Grande attended a mandatory racial and gender “privilege” training and, when asked for his opinion, expressed disagreement. School administrators later launched an investigation because of his response, issued Grande a written reprimand, and required him to undergo “sensitivity awareness” training or face further discipline, including potential termination.
Grande fought the district’s unwarranted discipline, but the union refused his request to initiate arbitration because, as an HFT vice president wrote in an email to Grande, “arbitration is reserved for dues-paying members.”
Physical Education Teacher Files Labor Board Charges Against Teachers’ Union
“In order to clear my name, I needed a level playing field through arbitration, but HFT officials abandoned me when I asked for assistance,” said Grande. “The district has created a toxic environment that’s driving out teachers, and as my case illustrates, the union is ineffective at standing up for us.”
With the help of the Fairness Center, Grande filed unfair labor practices charges in July of 2022, arguing that Connecticut law required the teachers’ union to fairly represent all members of Grande’s bargaining unit, without discrimination and regardless of their membership status.
Board Sides with Teacher, Calls Union’s Defense ‘Wholly Frivolous’
In its decision, the Board found “direct evidence of purposeful discrimination” by the union because of Grande’s union membership status and ruled that the union, therefore, illegally withheld services from Grande. The three-member panel took the union to task in its decision, 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 Grande “necessarily coerces employees in the exercise of a protected right”—the right to join or not join the union—and described the union’s behavior as inherently hostile:
“[W]e think that the Union underestimates the inherent hostility in segregating a class of employees because they have ceased to financially support the Union. …[T]he Board has found that a union violates [the duty of fair representation] when it discriminates against unit employees solely on the basis of their nonmembership status as such discrimination necessarily coerces employees in the exercise of their … rights to join or refrain from joining a labor organization.”
The Board has ordered the Hartford Federation of Teachers to:
- Stop discriminating against Grande because he is a nonmember
- Pay Grande’s costs and attorney’s fees
- Post the Board’s decision in district schools for 60 days
Connecticut Public Employees Gain Clearer Rights
The Board’s decision applies to Grande and can be used by other Connecticut public employees to assert their rights.
“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.”
“The state labor board has reached a decision that holds union officials accountable for shirking their legal duty to fairly represent me. 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.”
Fairness Center attorneys are available for comment. Please contact Anna Kertland at email@example.com or 844.293.1001 to schedule an interview.
The Fairness Center is a nonprofit, public interest law firm offering free legal services to those hurt by public-sector union officials. For more information visit www.FairnessCenter.org.