Appeals court upholds Hanford union rulings

Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 7, 2013 

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld 2009 federal court decisions that did not find evidence of discrimination or retaliation against a former Hanford union official.

Stephanie Green, the former president of United Steelworkers Local 12-369, sued related labor organizations claiming that she was discriminated against because she is black or a woman or that she was retaliated against for her speech or actions.

She sued the local union, the international union, the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council -- an umbrella group for 15 Hanford unions -- and the HAMTC president.

The district federal court dismissed some of Green's claims outright, and then ruled against other claims in November 2009 before the defense had presented its case in a nonjury trial.

The lower court found that actions against Green were not retaliatory or discriminatory, but were because of the competing interests of rival factions within the local or the need to alleviate the tension created by disagreements within the local.

Legal claims filed by Green followed years of turmoil within the local that had HAMTC discussing whether to drop the local, appeals court Judge Wallace Tashima wrote in an opinion Friday.

Green was elected president of the local in 2005, becoming its first female and first black president.

She already had worked with other nuclear chemical operators unsuccessfully in 2002 to decertify the local, claiming it did not do enough for Hanford workers.

About half of the local's 1,400 members worked at Hanford at the time and the rest worked for other employers in three states.

Other local leaders ordered the election be rerun, but the international intervened to make sure that Green was seated as president.

At her first executive board meeting as president, she said that certain decisions by the executive board would have to be ratified by the members at monthly meetings, which were held only in Richland.

The local's pharmacists and technicians in Spokane responded by moving to leave the local.

Green claimed in her court case that she was retaliated against because she was excluded from meetings the international then called with those Spokane units of the locals.

The appeals court found that at least part of the reason she was excluded from meetings was because the units were unhappy with her actions as president.

Locals may only communicate with Hanford employers through HAMTC, and HAMTC would only forward documents with the correct signatures.

But when Green became president, Dave Molnaa, the HAMTC president, initially refused to recognize her authority to sign documents, requiring additional authorization from a staff member who also served on the executive board and was in conflict with Green.

Previous presidents also had served as staff representatives.

The issue was resolved when the international requested that Molnaa recognize Green's signature authority and Molnaa immediately consented.

The appeals court agreed with the lower court that Molnaa had a reasonable signature policy and that deviating from it would have embroiled him in the dispute over the balance of power between Green and the executive board.

By instead following the request of the international, he avoided taking sides, the courts found.

The most troubling of the events in the lawsuit was the imposition of an emergency administratorship for the local in August 2007, according to the appeals court opinion.

Based on allegations against Green made by an executive board member, the international arranged a three-day hearing in February 2007.

No evidence was found to remove her from office or place the local under an administratorship.

But in August an amended version of the hearing report was issued with a recommendation to place the local under an administratorship based on additional allegations.

Green had not been given a chance to answer those allegations.

Federal district court ordered the administratorship dissolved because a full hearing had not been held and ordered that Green, who had been suspended as an officer, be reinstated.

However, the problems within the local persisted and the international arranged for another hearing in November 2007.

The hearing focused on the continuing disenfranchisement of outlying branches of the local, allegations that Green discharged employees without the involvement of the executive board, and a special meeting Green allegedly held in violation of the local's bylaws.

The hearing resulted in a second recommendation that the local be placed under an administratorship, but an appeals panel rejected the recommendation.

Green had made progress on certain issues and was willing to improve democratic processes within the local, the appeals panel found.

Despite irregularities in the proceedings, the lower court was justified in finding at trial that the initial administratorship had been imposed, not as retaliation, but because the turmoil within the local had reached a breaking point, the appeals court opinion said.

The international had supported Green in various ways, such as confirming the authority of her signature and ordering her seated as president after the election.

That showed it was reasonable to conclude there was no pattern of discrimination or retaliation against her before the recommendations to impose an administratorship, the appeals court said.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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