by J.D. Davidson
A northeast Ohio high school guidance counselor who wanted to choose her own attorney in a dispute with her school system has appealed a lower court ruling she had to accept union representation.
Barbara Kolkowski, a counselor in the Ashtabula Area City School District, filed the original complaint a year ago in Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas to stop the Ashtabula Area Teachers Association from requiring her to accept its representation.
Kolkowski said she is not a member of the union and should not be forced to accept the representation. The Buckeye Institute, a Columbus-based policy group, is representing Kolkowski.
“The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Ohio case law and Ohio’s collective bargaining statute are clear: employees have the right to choose their own counsel in a workplace arbitration,” said Jay Carson, senior litigator for The Buckeye Institute. “In a violation of Ms. Kolkowski’s rights, she is being forced to accept union legal representation in her contract dispute with the school district, despite the fact that she is not a member of the union. What makes this case even more absurd is Ms. Kolkowski is simply asking to be able to hire her own lawyer at her own expense – something that is guaranteed by Ohio law.”
Kolkowksi has appealed the lower court ruling to Ohio’s Eleventh District Court of Appeals.
Kolkowski filed a contract grievance in September 2020 regarding duties assigned to her in a supplemental contract. District administrators denied the grievance, along with an appeal, according to the complaint. She represented herself in the first grievance and the appeal.
She later asked the union to request arbitration on her behalf and notified the union she wanted her own counsel at her own expense. Kolkowski’s lawsuit claims the union, in a letter, said it would file for arbitration on her behalf but she could not be represented by her own counsel.
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J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher. He is a regional editor for The Center Square.