CIR Files Suit Against California Gag-Rule

The Center for Individual Rights and the California Policy Center have filed suit challenging a California law that prohibits communications by certain public officials that would “deter or discourage” public employees or applicants from membership in a public employee union.

The vaguely worded law infringes on constitutionally protected speech by elected officials who might be deemed “public employers” by permitting a public employee union to file an unfair labor practice charge in response to any statement that might “deter or discourage” union membership, including factually accurate statements that union officials perceive as unfavorable to their recruitment and member retention efforts.

CIR and CPC are representing Phillip Yarbrough, who has served on the Board of Trustees of the Rancho Santiago Community College District for twenty-two years and currently serves as the Board President, and Rodger Dohm, an elected member of the Ramona Unified School District Board of Education for twelve years. 

Yarbrough and Dohm have a history of communicating information and views about unions that could discourage individuals from membership.  Since passage of the law, they have had to refrain from communicating on a variety of union issues that they believe are important to the operation of the educational institutions they oversee.

By silencing speech unfavorable to public employee unions, this California law impermissibly interferes with both the rights of elected officials to publicly discuss union policies relevant to their oversight responsibilities, and with the interests of employees and the public in full public discussion about the costs and benefits of those policies.

The suit was filed in federal district court for the Southern District of California.  It asks the court to enjoin enforcement of the law on grounds that it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.