Hillary Clinton addresses the SEIU at its 26th annual convention in 2016. | Youtube screenshot
A Chicago federal judge has ruled the ousted president and vice president of the Chicago-based Service Employees International Union Local 73 can press their lawsuit against the broader SEIU for improperly expelling them, allegedly for disagreeing over union affairs.
The judge, however, said they cannot seek reinstatement, only money damages.
Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer issued the ruling recently in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Her decision was in response to a motion by defendants SEIU, its president Mary Kay Henry, and former Local 73 trustees Eliseo Medina and Dian Palmer.
The suit was brought in 2018 by Christine Boardman and Terri Barnett, Local 73’s former president and vice president, respectively. The pair was kicked out of the union local in 2016, and replaced by trustees. The situation has been rancorous: In February 2019, Boardman was cited on a trespassing complaint after allegedly refusing to leave a Local 73 meeting.
Boardman alleged she was wrongfully booted because she did not back Henry’s run for union president and criticized Henry’s effort to have the union endorse a candidate in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The union endorsed Hillary Clinton, but the suit did not mention Clinton by name. Barnett alleged she was removed because of her association with Boardman.
Boardman and Barnett claim their rights to free speech and due process were violated under the U.S. Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. They sought reinstatement to their posts and damages.
Union leadership said the case should be tossed, contending the trusteeship was put in place because the local had “lost order” and was in “crisis.” In this regard, Boardman and Local 73’s secretary-treasurer, Matthew Brandon, had been at odds, questioning each other’s legitimacy to hold office, according to court papers.
Judge Pallmeyer ruled plaintiffs cannot be reinstated because the trusteeship has since been dissolved and a legal election held, which installed new officers. These legitimately elected officers cannot be ejected, Pallmeyer noted.
However, Pallmeyer found plaintiffs can continue to seek monetary damages, given they have plausibly argued they were bounced from the union in retaliation for speaking out against Henry.
“Plaintiffs, for example, allege that Defendants never filed charges of wrongdoing against them,” Pallmeyer wrote. This allegation “suggests that Plaintiffs were adequately performing their duties as elected officers, and thus undermines an alternative explanation for Defendants' decision to remove them from office: poor job performance.”
Pallmeyer also gave weight to plaintiffs’ claim that Henry imposed the trusteeship without giving plaintiffs notice or letting them participate in the trusteeship ratification hearing.
Boardman and Barnett are represented by Chicago lawyer Mark S. Schaffner.
The union and its officials are defended by the Chicago firm of Dowd, Bloch, Bennett, Cervone, Auerbach & Yokich, as well as Bredhoff & Kaiser, of Washington, D.C.
A number of other suits have been filed in connection with the squabble over Local 73, including one by Wayne Lindwall, assistant to Local 73’s chief of staff, who in 2016 alleged Boardman tried to besmirch his name because he opposed her.
Lindwall himself was the subject of a 2016 suit by Local 73 members and officials for allegedly maligning them in emails.
Another action was lodged in February 2018 by a group of Local 73 members against the SEIU, demanding the trusteeship be scrapped and local control restored through elections. While the suit was pending, elections were conducted, which rendered the suit moot.