City Ordered To Reinstate Union President With Back Pay

Katherine Homelius is a corporal for the City of Groveland, Florida Police Department, and is assigned as a detective. Prior to coming to work for the City in 2011, Homelius had worked as a police officer for 13 years in Clermont, a neighboring city, including four and a half years as a detective.

The Department began to have serious issues with City management, including Groveland’s mayor, Jim Gearhart. Eventually, the issues caused the Police Chief to quit and officers to begin discussing forming a union. Homelius, who was a member of the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA) when she worked at Clermont, contacted union officials about starting a local chapter of IUPA in Groveland.

When the Union filed a petition to represent the Department’s officers, various City representatives began to campaign against the Union. The Mayor told a Union representative that “the Union was not a good idea” and made negative comments about the Union. The new Chief wrote a letter to all Department members, including “derogatory statements about the amount of money IUPA international collected and paid in salaries” and ending with the comment that “you are receiving the pay and benefits outlined in this letter without your having to pay union dues and fees. Simply stated, you do not need a union to ensure that you received fair salary and benefits as a Groveland police officer.”

Nonetheless, members of the Department voted to certify the Union as their bargaining representative. During the election, Homelius was elected president of what became Local 6090, was then told by the new Chief that she was going to be moved from a detective position back to road patrol. The City then opened an internal affairs investigation into whether Homelius had been performing her job adequately, and denied Homelius the opportunity to review the investigatory case files that she was purported to have failed to properly investigate.

More internal investigations followed, for topics as varied as improperly making phone calls while Homelius was on a break to alleged insubordination. Eventually, the City fired Homelius, who had never before been disciplined.

The Union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with Florida’s Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), contending that Homelius was the victim of anti-union discrimination. PERC agreed, and ordered Homelius to be reinstated with full back pay.

PERC found that “the reasons given for Homelius’ termination were pretextual. She was targeted for her union activities and her union activities were a substantial and motivating factor in the City’s decision to terminate her. The issues regarding her alleged insubordination and other violations were not supported by the law and facts. Similarly, the criticism of her investigations was flawed and the findings regarding her alleged deficient performance were exaggerated to provide a convenient reason to get rid of her.

“Prior to her union activities, she had been recognized as having a satisfactory performance. Any deficiency in her treatment of property crimes came from the need to prioritize her other cases and the fact that she had too much work for a single detective. Even if there were some argument that Homelius’ files were disorganized, the fact is that she had been transferred to the road patrol and that any minor deficiency in having one detective do the work of two had been addressed by the Department.”

PERC noted one complicating factor: “Ordinarily, the remedy in a case like this would be to order the City to reinstate Homelius in a corporal position and provide back pay and any other benefits that she would be entitled to if she had not been terminated. However, after she was terminated Homelius was criminally charged based on information provided by the Department. While the criminal issue may provide an independent ground to terminate Homelius, Local 6090 has also filed a charge alleging that the criminal charge was related to further unfair labor practices by the City. These issues were not and should not be litigated in this case, and the order to reinstate Homelius should be contingent on the outcome of the criminal charge and the subsequent unfair labor practice case associated with that criminal charge.”

City of Groveland, 41 FPER ¶ 350 (Fla. PERC 2015).