Pasadena, Calif. (January 16, 2003) – Rather than a face an adverse judgment in a religious discrimination suit, California Teachers Association (CTA) union officials begrudgingly have agreed to honor the right of an Arcadia elementary school teacher to have her monthly union fees re-directed to charity because the union’s social advocacy violates her religious convictions.
With free legal assistance from attorneys with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Victoria Heggem filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against the CTA and its affiliates, the Arcadia Teachers Association (ATA) and National Education Association (NEA), for forcing her to follow the union’s illegal policy that requires teachers to pay a large lump-sum payment as a condition of accommodating religious objections to supporting the union.
Victoria Heggem, a member of the Lake Avenue Congregational Church, objected to association with the CTA union because of its support of resolutions calling for special legal protections for homosexuality and support for abortion.
“It’s outrageous for the union hierarchy to demand that a teacher put allegiance to the union’s radical social agenda ahead of her religious faith,” said Stefan Gleason, Vice President of the National Right to Work Foundation.
The case arose when Heggem asked ATA officials to accommodate her religious beliefs and divert the dues to a mutually agreed upon charity. To discourage requests for religious accommodations, ATA union officials demanded she pay $700.00, union dues for a full year, in one lump sum at the start of the school year. ATA officials told Heggem that if she did not meet this demand (a demand not imposed on teachers who were not religious objectors), they would not honor her religious objection and would deduct fees from her paycheck that would go directly to the union.
Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, union officials may not force any employee to financially support a union if doing so violates the employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs. To avoid the conflict between an employee’s faith and a requirement to pay fees to a union he or she believes to be immoral, the law requires union officials to accommodate the employee – most often by designating a mutually acceptable charity to accept the funds.