Judge Rejects Union’s Attempt to Dismiss Religious Objector Suit

July 7, 2015, HARRISBURG, Pa.—Most Pennsylvanians take the right to support charities they believe in for granted.  But two public school teachers discovered that the Pennsylvania State Education Association believes it can arbitrarily prevent religious objectors from sending their own money to the charities they choose, in violation of state law.

That’s why Lancaster County teacher Chris Meier and Chester County teacher Jane Ladley (now retired) filed a complaint in Lancaster County court last September against the PSEA with the help of the Fairness Center. Now, after a judge’s opinion, these teachers will get their day in court.

“This is a big win for Jane Ladley, Chris Meier, and all public employees who object on religious grounds to financially supporting a union,” commented David Osborne, general counsel for the Fairness Center. “The judge determined that PSEA’s practice of stonewalling religious objectors and withholding Jane’s and Chris’s money indefinitely is ‘patently unreasonable’ and agreed that the case is ripe for the court’s determination.

“These teachers will now get their day in court to determine whether the leaders of PSEA can arbitrarily restrict their choices based on the union’s own self-serving criteria. Pennsylvania law protects religious objectors’ freedom to donate their money to a nonreligious charity they choose—not merely to a pre-selected group of charities union leaders dictate to them.”

Pennsylvania teachers in “agency shop” school districts may opt out of joining the teachers’ union but are still required to send a “fair share fee” to the union. According to state law, however, individuals may claim “religious objector” status and direct their fee to a “nonreligious charity.”

Both Meier and Ladley have selected nonreligious charities to receive their money, but officials from the PSEA have refused to release their funds and have suggested their own charities instead.

Osborne concluded, “While the judge limited the scope of their complaint in some ways, this opinion validates our argument that the restrictions placed on them by the union are unreasonable. We look forward to defending Jane Ladley and Chris Meier from overbearing and unaccountable PSEA leaders in the proceeding to come.”

Note: Last month, the Fairness Center filed a similar complaint in federal court on behalf of Linda Misja, a public school teacher and religious objector from Port Matilda, Pennsylvania. This ruling in Lancaster County court does not affect Misja’s case.


The Plaintiffs

Jane Ladley is a 25-year veteran of the Pennsylvania public school system. She recently retired from Avon Grove School District in Chester County, not long after the district went “agency shop,” requiring all teachers to either join the teachers’ unions or pay a lesser “fair share fee.” Ladley’s status as a religious objector to the PSEA was accepted in 2013, but her money in lieu of the “fair share fee”  has been held in escrow since then, rather than funding her chosen charity.

Chris Meier, a father of three, teaches history and economics at Penn Manor High School in Lancaster County. He is also a “bona fide religious objector” whose charity of choice has been arbitrarily rejected by the PSEA.

David Osborne is available for comment. Contact Conner Drigotas, 844.293.1001, cddrigotas@fairnesscenter.org to schedule an interview.

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The Fairness Center is a nonprofit, public interest law firm offering free legal services to those facing unjust treatment from public employee union leaders. For more information visit www.FairnessCenter.org.