Paulsen v. Local No. 856 (Court of Appeal Case No. A126633) (Issued on 3/18/11)
Plaintiffs are Deputy Probation Officers employed by the County of Marin (County) who brought a wage and hour lawsuit against both the County and their union, Local 856. The lawsuit alleged that the County and the union entered into a “secret” deal to falsely designate plaintiffs as exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The plaintiffs brought three (3) causes of action alleged against the union: 1) breach of the duty of fair representation, 2) common law breach of fiduciary duty, and 3) fraudulent concealment.
The trial court sustained the union’s demurrer to the first cause of action on the ground that PERB has exclusive jurisdiction over an alleged breach of the duty of fair representation. The trial court also sustained the union’s demurrer to the 2nd and 3rd causes of action on the ground that the “essence” of those claims also was for breach of the duty of fair representation.
On appeal, the plaintiffs made the novel argument that under the MMBA there is no duty of fair representation. Because there is no duty of fair representation, plaintiff s argued that there could be no unfair practice. The court acknowledged that in Andrews v. Board of Supervisors (1982) 134 Cal.App.3d 274, 283 (“Andrews”), another appellate court concluded that the MMBA does not contain an implied duty of fair representation. However, based on subsequent case-law, the court questioned the validity of the Andrews decision and noted that PERB has consistently held that a duty of fair representation exists under the MMBA. Accordingly, the court held that a claim for breach of the duty of fair representation is clearly an unfair practice under the MMBA.
- In addition to the above holding, the court also affirmed that MMBA section 3511 only exempts from PERB’s jurisdiction peace officers designated under Penal Code 830.1. Deputy Probation Officers are designated peace officers under Penal Code 830.5, and therefore are subject to PERB’s jurisdiction.
- With respect to the duty of fair representation, the court emphasized that the duty arises from the union’s role as the “exclusive” representative of employees. The decision notes that, “there is ordinarily no such duty when the union does not occupy that position, or as to particular matters for which the union does not act as the employees’ exclusive agent.” Typically, the duty of fair representation attaches to negotiations and contractually based remedies under the union’s exclusive control. What this means is that if the union voluntarily takes on a role—for example, representing an employee in a civil service hearing where the employee is free to represent himself or herself or obtain independent counsel—the duty of fair representation may not attach. I’ve always seens this as an unnecessary loophole in the law. In my opinion, if a union voluntarily undertakes representation of an employee the duty of fair representation should attach. Granted, I’m a management attorney so I’m biased. But it seems to me that an employee should expect the union to treat him or her fairly and not to make arbitrarty decisions regardless of whether the union is acting in an “exclusive” capacity or not.
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