Unions Winning Legal Battles to Limit Janus Decision

Last year, in Janus v. AFSCME, the Supreme Court overturned more than 40 years of precedent to forbid public sector Unions from collecting fair share fees from non-members.  Since then, “right to shirk/right to work for less”  groups have flooded courts across the country with class action lawsuits seeking to expand Janus in a number of ways.  Some of these lawsuits  argue that Janus applies retroactively and therefore seek the refund of millions of dollars’ worth of fees Unions collected even before Janus.

So far, at least nine U.S. District Courts have issued decisions in these retroactive refund cases.  All the courts have rejected plaintiffs’ claims, concluding that non-members were not entitled to the refund of fair share fees collected before Janus.  The courts held that the Unions were shielded by the affirmative “good faith” defense because the unions followed then-applicable laws that permitted the collection of fair share fees.   For example, the most recent case, Mooney v. Illinois Education Association  held:  “To suggest Defendants’ conduct was ‘unlawful’ or even wrong when it was in accordance with state law and Supreme Court precedent  would undermine basic principles of equity and fairness.  The good-faith defense prevents that injustice here.”

So far, six of the decisions  have been appealed, with more decisions and more appeals on the way.  On appeal, plaintiffs will likely continue to argue that the good faith defense is not available to private parties such as Unions. But  Unions have a strong counterargument given every Federal Court of Appeals to consider the question—the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the  2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 9th Circuits—has ruled that private parties sued under section 1983 may raise a good faith defense.  However, the Supreme Court has yet to decide the question.

If you have any questions about these cases and the issues they raise, please contact your labor law counsel.

By Andrea Matsuoka | April 29, 2019

Legal Developments