Press Release: University of Hawaii employee files lawsuit against HGEA and University for constitutional violations

January 11, 2019

HILO, HAWAII (Jan. 10, 2019) –– Patricia Grossman, an employee of the University of Hawaii at Hilo for over 30 years, filed a lawsuit against the University and the Hawaii Government Employees Association for violating her First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of association. The University and HGEA refuse to allow her to resign union membership. Grossman is represented by attorneys from the Liberty Justice Center and the complaint is filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii.

Despite the decisive victory for workers’ rights in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Janus v. AFSCME, Patricia Grossman was blocked from exercising her right to resign membership from, and stop paying dues to, the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA).

The Liberty Justice Center also represented Illinois state worker Mark Janus in Janus v. AFSCME. On June 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus that it is illegal to require government workers to pay dues or fees to a government union as a condition of employment. The Court also required that government employers – including states, cities, counties, and school districts – obtain clear consent from an employee in order to collect any union dues or fees from that employee. Further, the Court said that consent cannot be assumed; it must be voluntary, knowing, and shown by clear and compelling evidence.

Ms. Grossman has worked for the University of Hawaii at Hilo for nearly 35 years and currently serves as an admissions officer. She began attempts to stop contributing to HGEA shortly after learning about the Janus decision in July 2018.

Despite Ms. Grossman’s requests to opt out and withdraw any alleged affirmative consent previously provided to the union, HGEA asserts that she cannot opt out until a 30-day period prior to her anniversary date. This arbitrary opt out window limiting government workers’ right to their First Amendment rights was passed into Hawaii state law in April 2018.

To date, HGEA has failed to produce any proof that Ms. Grossman previously authorized the union to deduct dues from her paycheck. The University of Hawaii and HGEA violated Grossman’s First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of association by refusing to allow her to withdraw from the union and by continuing to charge her union dues based solely on a union card that she allegedly signed before the Janus decision.

A Liberty Justice Center attorney said: “The university and HGEA cannot deduct and collect union dues from Ms. Grossman without her affirmative consent. HGEA has not only refused to comply with Ms. Grossman’s requests to withdraw from the union, they have also failed to produce any documentation showing she previously authorized the deduction of union dues. What’s more, HGEA responded to Ms. Grossman’s requests to resign with incorrect opt-out window dates that could have further prevented her from leaving the union. The State of Hawaii, the University and HGEA are acting in concert to undermine Ms. Grossman’s constitutional rights.”


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