Race Discrimination and Union Free Speech Claims

A federal jury in Florida held a county and a union liable for race discrimination. On appeal, the judgment was affirmed in Booth v. Pasco County, Florida. Employment lawyer Paul Mollica comments on the case, also discussed in his blog posting.

Paul Mollica

Paul Mollica

Mollica explains that the case began when two paramedics complained of racial discrimination by their captain. The paramedics were reassigned to locations they considered less desirable, so they asked the union for help. Subsequently, the paramedics filed claims against the county and the firefighters’ union. After the claims were filed, the union notified all union members by email that the two paramedics, who were named in the email, had filed claims, the defense of which might require the union to increase dues.

At trial, the jury found against both the county and the union. On the appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the union claimed that its notice to its members was nothing more than free speech under the First Amendment. Mollica says that, because the union’s email was actually a call for reprisal against the paramedics. “The union exceeded the bounds of free expression,” Mollica notes.

The use of the names of the complainants in the union email was a key factor in branding the communication as a call for reprisal. As a rule, the union didn’t include the names of complainants in communications to members about the defense of lawsuits.

Paul W. Mollica joined Outten & Golden LLP as Of Counsel in 2010. He is a frequent author and lecturer (for lawyers and courts) in the area of employment discrimination. He is a two-term past president of the Chicago Council of Lawyers, a public-interest bar association. He has been selected as a Super Lawyer© in Illinois and has the highest, AV© rating from Martindale-Hubbell. He is licensed to practice in Illinois and New York. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.

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