by J.D. Davidson
A nonunion school guidance counselor wants the Ohio Supreme Court to decide if she can hire her own lawyer for a grievance with her school system, rather than be forced to use union representation.
The court has not set a hearing date for Barbara Kolkowski, who sued the Ashtabula Area Teachers Association and asked the court to rule a union – which she is not a member of – cannot force her to accept union legal representation to arbitrate a workplace grievance.
Kolkowski is represented by The Buckeye Institute, a Columbus-based policy organization.
“When the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Janus v. AFSME, it recognized that public employment does not require public employees to surrender their constitutional rights. Ohio has recognized that same right in its constitution and laws,” said Jay R. Carson, senior litigator at The Buckeye Institute and an attorney representing Kolkowski. “But that is just what the union – which Ms. Kolkowski is not a member of – is forcing her to do; surrender her right to hire her own lawyer, at her own expense, to represent her in a workplace arbitration dispute. Today, the Ohio Supreme Court has an opportunity to vindicate Ms. Kolkowski’s right to have her own legal counsel.”
As previously reported by The Center Square, the Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas ruled against Kolkowski and in January she appealed to Ohio’s 11th District Court of Appeals, which also ruled against her.
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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An Ohio native, 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. Davidson is a regional editor for The Center Square.
Photo “Ohio Supreme Court” by Sixflashphoto. CC BY-SA 4.0.