Members of Chicago-based Service Employee International Union Local 73 are suing the union and one of its officers for defamation, alleging the officer sent emails maligning them after he was booted from office, with other Local 73 officials not only failing to take proper steps in response, but worsening the situation.
Local 73 officers Remzi Jaos, Terry Barnett, Brenda Woodall and Chesca Smotherman, as well as the Service Employee Staff Union, filed a three-count suit Feb. 24 for defamation and breach of fiduciary duty against SEIU, its Local 73 and Wayne Lindwall.
Service Employee Staff Union represents the employees of Local 73, serving as a union within a union. Local 73 covers northern Illinois and Indiana, representing more than 26,000 workers, including janitors, security guards, maintenance technicians, bus drivers and child care providers, among many others. SEIU is one of the largest unions in the United States with 1.9 million members.
Lindwall is a Local 73 officer who was fired Aug. 10, 2015, then reinstated the next month, according to the lawsuit. Lindwall now serves as Local 73's Chicago division director and assistant to Local 73’s chief of staff.
According to plaintiffs, Lindwall and possibly others composed an email that was sent two days after he was fired, to Tonka Bradley, secretary to the SEIU president, in which Lindwall allegedly falsely accused various plaintiffs of racism, poor leadership, favoritism, nepotism, incompetence, drunkenness and engaging in illicit sex.
The email also detailed Lindwall’s accomplishments – “purported accomplishments” in plaintiffs’ view – and claimed certain of the plaintiffs conspired to wrongfully fire him.
Bradley forwarded the email to a union lawyer, but no action was taken, plaintiffs said, adding that only a “select few” within the union would have had Bradley’s email address.
The same email was sent Aug. 24 to past and present members of the SEIU executive board and to some of the union’s staff. One of the recipients was Local 73 President Christine Boardman, who allegedly increased the email’s audience by forwarding the email to the entire staff, according to plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs said “controversy” then ensued among Local 73 members, prompting Boardman to have a union lawyer file court action Aug. 31 to force Google to disclose account information, so the sender of the emails could be identified. Google provided information that allegedly tied the account to a computer in Lindwall’s home and that the account was set up two days after Lindwall’s termination – the same day the first email was received by Bradley.
The court action involving Google was dropped in December, without word to the plaintiffs from Local 73 or its attorney, plaintiffs claimed.
Plaintiffs said the emails caused them emotional distress and adversely affected their earning potential, particularly for Jaos, who said he lost out on a vice president post in the union, which carried a $30,000 yearly pay increase.
“The ramifications of the defamatory statements are far-reaching and will be long lasting,” plaintiffs asserted.
The SESU was also besmirched, because the emails came from an address not maintained by anyone in an official union capacity and which was fashioned to convey the bogus impression the messages were composed by SESU members, plaintiffs alleged.
Besides Lindwall and whoever else may have allegedly co-authored the message, plaintiffs also alleged Boardman should have contained the damage, but instead worsened it when she forwarded the email to a number of other people. Further, Local 73 officials failed in their duty to plaintiffs by not fully investigating the emails, failing to discipline the sender or senders and failing to pursue litigation on behalf of plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs seek punitive and compensatory damages. They are represented by Eckert & Smestad and Montgomery Law Firm, both of Chicago.