Apollo-Ridge High School teacher sues PSEA over dues
An Apollo-Ridge High School teacher is suing the state’s largest teachers union over her union dues.
Linda Misja, of Bellefonte, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the Pennsylvania State Education Association because the union has been holding her annual nonmember dues in escrow for three years.
The two sides can’t agree on a neutral and nonreligious charity to which Misja’s more than $2,000 should go.
“I wrote them a letter asking them about my money,” Misja said. “It’s been a worry for me that my money might be going to support causes that go against my deep personal beliefs.”
In 2012, Misja filed a religious exemption to paying a “fair share fee,” required from those who don’t want to join the union but still benefit from the contract.
At the time she was an English and French teacher in the Bellefonte Area School District. She’s worked for Apollo-Ridge since 2014.
As a devout Catholic, her religious objection is based on her belief that the PSEA supports causes that either directly or indirectly advocate for abortion rights.
The PSEA allows those who have a religious objection to designate their fair share fee, which is less than union dues, to “a nonreligious charity agreed upon by the nonmember and the union.”
The PSEA objected to two charities Misja proposed. Misja called those objections “capricious and arbitrary” in her lawsuit.
Misja is represented by The Fairness Center, which offers free legal help to people who feel mistreated by their unions. The organization filed a similar lawsuit against the PSEA in Lancaster County, over issues two teachers there experienced with their fair share fee money.
Fairness Center general counsel David Osborne said the PSEA “drew a line in the sand” in Misja’s case.
PSEA spokesman Wythe Keever said the list of acceptable charities is “broad and extensive.”
“In this case, Ms. Misja and PSEA have not mutually agreed upon her first choice as the charity to receive the fair share fee,” Keever said. “PSEA remains willing to work with Ms. Misja to identify another charity to receive the fair share fee.”
According to the lawsuit, the PSEA first objected to Misja’s choice of People Concerned for the Unborn Child, a nonprofit pro-life organization that helps pregnant teens, saying that “it would be tantamount to sending your fees to a charity that furthers your religious beliefs,” according to the lawsuit.
The union said the money should go to a charity that counsels women on all options.
“I was quite shocked. I had no idea that my choice would be turned down,” Misja said. “I should have the freedom to put my money to a cause that I have a personal connection to and to a cause I believe in.”
Her second choice, the National Rifle Association Foundation, which promotes youth firearm and hunting safety and supports shooting sports, also was rejected. The union said the foundation supports a political organization.
“Both deal with young people and schools, and both were denied for different reasons that I don’t understand,” Misja said.
The union rejected Misja’s request for arbitration and sent her a list of suggested charities, including the American Heart Association and March of Dimes.
Misja’s lawsuit says PSEA’s policy is an affront to her personal freedom and rules out “large, vague categories of charities.”
She says the union has violated her constitutional rights of free speech, association, expression and due process. She wants the court to order PSEA to end its practice of “obstructing and censoring her charity selections.”
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.