On January 1, 2022,An Ohio guidance counselor who opted out of the union has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn a decision of the 11th District Court of Appeals which found she did not have a right to use her own attorney during an arbitration hearing.

Revised Code 4117.04 requires public employers to extend and recognize the right of a designated union representative to serve as the exclusive representative of the bargaining unit included in a CBA. In the event that an employee wishes to obtain their own attorney at their own expense, unions will typically have procedures for the employee to waive their right to protection and representation under the CBA. If a district allows private representation in meetings such as predisciplinary hearings, they may face an unfair labor practice charge.

The employee contends that denying her choice of legal counsel infringes on the First and Fifth Amendments of the United States Constitution. The lower court held that the employee’s constitutional rights were not violated because the arbitration process was established in a collective bargaining agreement between the school district and the union. The court found that the employee herself was not legally entitled to initiate the grievance and arbitration process so her rights to free speech and due process were not violated. By requesting that the union submit the grievance to arbitration, as required by the collective bargaining agreement, the employee “ceded her standing to adjust the grievance.”

The Ohio Supreme Court is not required to take this case. If it decides not to hear the appeal, then the 11th District Court’s decision will remain prevailing law. We will monitor it for further developments.

How this affects your district? The employee in this case is represented by the Buckeye Institute, which has been involved in collective bargaining litigation since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Janus declaring that fair share fees were unconstitutional. Ennis Britton has seen an increase in the number of employees who request to use their own legal counsel rather than the representation provided by public sector unions. This can put a school district in the middle of a fight between its employee and the union representing bargaining unit members, which may even result in the filing of an ULP charge against the District with the State Employment Relations Board. Districts should contact legal counsel before proceeding with any meeting which is attended by an employee’s non-union attorney.