A question that comes up from time to time is whether a public safety union has the right to discipline its own members. A recent decision from a New York trial court answers that question “yes,” provided that the union has followed its own bylaws in imposing the discipline.
The case involved Raymond Montero, a member of the Police Association of the City of Yonkers. In January 2014, a motion was made at an Association meeting to bring misconduct charges against Montero. In short order, a petition seeking Montero’s expulsion was circulated among Association members. Among other things, the petition alleged that Montero had provided Association emails to a newspaper, that he had posted Assocation emails on a newspaper website, that he had made defamatory statements on the newspaper website, and that he had punched another member at an Association meeting.
The Association held a meeting to consider the charges against Montero. Montero failed to attend the meeting, and those in attendance voted to expel him by an 80-9 vote. Montero then sued the Association, challenging his expulsion.
A New York trial court upheld Montero’s expulsion. The Court held that “an association may expel a member for violation of its established rules for which expulsion is provided. Where the constitution and the by-laws of a voluntary association reasonably set forth grounds for expulsion and provide for a hearing upon notice to the member, judicial review of such proceeding is unavailable, unless the reason for expulsion is not a violation of the constitution or by-laws or is so trivial as to suggest that the action of the association was capricious or corrupt, or unless the association failed to administer its own rules fairly and follow the proper procedures for removal of a member.
“After a careful review of the record, the Court is satisfied that the Association did comply with the by-laws and followed the proper procedures for removal of a member. Montero acknowledges that he received a notification of the meeting and chose not to attend. The Court finds no basis to disturb the Association’s determination.”
In re Montero, No. 062776/14 (N.Y. Sup. 2014).
Note: One issue the Court in Montero did not address is whether a union’s disciplinary action could impact a member’s status as an employee. Almost certainly, a union’s decision could not have such an impact, at least in the public sector.