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English v. Service Employees International Union

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 27, 2019

WILLIE ENGLISH, REMZI JAOS, RICARDO LOZA, BRENDA WOODALL, BASHIR B. NURUDDIN, TOM HALEY, and LEONARD SIMPSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, LOCAL 73, and DENISE POLYAC, individually and as former Trustee of SEIU, LOCAL 73, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HON. JORGE ALONSO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs, Willie English, Remzi Jaos, Ricardo Loza, Brenda Woodall, Bashir B. Nuruddin, Tom Haley, and Leonard Simpson, bring this suit against their former employer and labor union, Service Employees International Union (“SEIU”) Local 73, and Denise Polyac, formerly one of the trustees in charge of SEIU Local 73. Plaintiffs claim that they were terminated in violation of their rights as union members under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (“LMRDA”), 29 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. Defendants move to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         In August 2016, SEIU Local 73 was taken into trusteeship by SEIU, its international parent union. (See Defs.’ Br. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. A, SEIU Const. and Bylaws, Art. VIII, Sec. 7, ECF No. 18-1 at 20.) Plaintiffs were all employees and members of SEIU Local 73, as well as members of the Service Employees Staff Union (“SESU”), the exclusive collective bargaining representative of Local 73 employees. Some of the plaintiffs held elective office in SESU. Plaintiffs disagreed with the policies, direction, and management of Local 73 under Polyac’s trusteeship, and, while the trusteeship was still in place, plaintiffs independently formed a slate of candidates to campaign for election to leadership positions in the next Local 73 election.

         Jaos began to publicly discuss the campaign, known as “Members Leading Members” (“MLM”), in March 2017. Poloyac threatened to terminate his employment unless he desisted and supported the trusteeship. In June 2017, Jaos was terminated.

         In January 2018, the MLM campaign published its slate of candidates, which included plaintiffs, and their positions on a website. Within the month, English, Woodall, Loza, Nuruddin, Haley, and Simpson were all suspended and then terminated. Their termination letters specifically cited their involvement in the MLM campaign as the reason for their termination. Plaintiffs subsequently filed this suit.

         ANALYSIS

         “A motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests whether the complaint states a claim on which relief may be granted.” Richards v. Mitcheff, 696 F.3d 635, 637 (7th Cir. 2012). Under Rule 8(a)(2), a complaint must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The short and plain statement under Rule 8(a)(2) must “‘give the defendant fair notice of what . . . the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).

         Under federal notice-pleading standards, a plaintiff’s “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. Stated differently, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint under the plausibility standard, [courts must] accept the well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true, but [they] ‘need[ ] not accept as true legal conclusions, or threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.’” Alam v. Miller Brewing Co., 709 F.3d 662, 665-66 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009)).

         The LMRDA “was the product of congressional concern with widespread abuses of power by union leadership.” Finnegan v. Leu, 456 U.S. 431, 435 (1982). “Tensions between union leaders and the rank-and-file members and allegations of union wrongdoing led to . . . legislation focused on disclosure requirements and the regulation of union trusteeships and elections, ” but that also provided “protection for members of unions paralleling certain rights guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.” Id. These provisions, “ultimately enacted . . . under the title of ‘Bill of Rights of Members of Labor Organizations, ’” id., include the following:

(a)(1) Equal rights
Every member of a labor organization shall have equal rights and privileges within such organization to nominate candidates, to vote in elections or referendums of the labor organization, to attend membership meetings, and to participate in the deliberations and voting upon the business of such meetings, subject to reasonable rules and regulations in such organization’s constitution and bylaws.
(2) Freedom of speech and assembly
Every member of any labor organization shall have the right to meet and assemble freely with other members; and to express any views, arguments, or opinions; and to express at meetings of the labor organization his views, upon candidates in an election of the labor organization or upon any business properly before the meeting, subject to the organization's established and reasonable rules pertaining to the conduct of meetings: Provided, That nothing herein shall be construed to impair the right of a labor organization to adopt and enforce reasonable rules as to the responsibility of every member toward the ...

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