FINNEGAN V. LEU, 456 U. S. 431 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Finnegan v. Leu, 456 U.S. 431 (1982)

Finnegan v. Leu

No. 80-2150

Argued February 24, 1982

Decided May 17, 1982

456 U.S. 431


Sections 101(a)(1) and (2) of Title I of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (Act) guarantee equal voting rights and rights of free speech and assembly to "[e]very member of a labor organization," and § 609 of Title VI makes it unlawful for a union "to fine, suspend, expel, or otherwise discipline any of its members for exercising any right to which he is entitled" under the Act. Section 102 provides that any person whose rights under Title I have been infringed by any violation thereof may bring an action in federal district court for appropriate relief. Petitioners were discharged from their appointed positions as business agents for respondent local union by respondent union president following his election over a candidate supported by petitioners. Petitioners were also members of the union, and their discharges did not render them ineligible to continue union membership. Petitioners filed suit against respondents in Federal District Court, alleging that their discharges violated §§ 101(a)(1) and (2). The District Court granted summary judgment for respondents, holding that the Act does not protect a union employee from discharge by the union president if the employee's rights as a union member are not affected. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Petitioners have failed to establish a violation of the Act. Pp. 456 U. S. 435-442.

(a) It is apparent both from the language of §§ 101(a)(1), (2), and 609, and from Title I's legislative history, that Congress sought to protect rank-and-file union members, not the job security or tenure of union officers or employees as such. Pp. 456 U. S. 435-437.

(b) The term "discipline," as used in § 609, refers only to retaliatory actions that affect a union member's rights or status as a member of the union. The disciplinary sanctions of fine, suspension, and expulsion enumerated in § 609 are all punitive actions taken against union members as members. In contrast, discharge from union employment does not impinge upon the incidents of union membership, and affects union members only to the extent that they also happen to be union employees. Moreover, Congress used essentially the same language elsewhere in the Act with the specific intent not to protect a member's status as a union employee or officer. Accordingly, removal from appointive union employment

Page 456 U. S. 432

is not within the scope of the union sanctions explicitly prohibited by § 609. Pp. 456 U. S. 437-439.

(c) Petitioners were not prevented from exercising their rights under §§ 101(a)(1) and (2) as union members to campaign for respondent union president's opponent and to vote in the union election, and they allege only an indirect interference with those rights. Whatever limits Title I places on a union's authority to utilize dismissal from union office as part of an attempt to suppress dissent within the union, it does not restrict the freedom of an elected union leader to choose staff members whose views are compatible with his own. Neither the language nor legislative history of the Act suggests that it was intended to address the issue of union patronage, its overriding objective being rather to ensure that unions would be democratically governed and responsive to the union membership's will as expressed in open elections. Pp. 456 U. S. 439-442.

652 F.2d 58, affirmed.

BURGER, C.J.,delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 456 U. S. 442.

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