The media release and the official legal complaint can be viewed below.
A former West Warwick school teacher, John Lancellota filed a lawsuit last week against the Superintendent and multiple School Committee members in that school district for violating his Frist and Fourteenth Amendment rights, after he was fired for choosing not to pay dues to his designated union because of its radical “positions on political and social matters.” Such recrimination is illegal following the landmark Janus v. AFSCME US Supreme Court ruling in June of 2018, which according the official complaint says that “Being denied an employment position on the basis of withholding payment from a union is retaliation against that person for exercising a constitutional right to protected free speech, and is an unconstitutional condition of employment.”
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Plaintiff John Lancellota and members of his legal team will be the exclusive guest of Mike Stenhouse on his popular In The Dugout video podcast, on Thursday afternoon at 4:00PM, which can be viewed at LIVE at OceanStateCurrent.com/LIVE .
“Not only are school districts across our state infringing on student and parental rights, but they are violating the constitutional rights of their own teachers,” said Mike Stenhouse, CEO of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity. “West Warwick was one of about a dozen school districts in Rhode Island our Center identified in a report last March that maintained blatantly unconstitutional language in its collective bargaining agreement, deceiving teachers into believing they must pay the union. To then manifest this bogus language into illegal action by bullying, then firing John Lancellota is an injustice that the Courts must remedy.”
Lancellota was advised of his constitutional rights and was put in touch with his current legal team via the Center’s website, MyPayMySayRI.com .
OFFICIAL MEDIA RELEASE FROM THE MACKINAC CENTER
Rhode Island Teacher Fired for Opting Out of Union Membership
This action is a clear violation of his First Amendment rights
MIDLAND, Mich. — A school district in Rhode Island denied tenure to a teacher after he opted out of paying union dues, according to a lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation, in conjunction with attorney Joseph Larisa, Jr. The lawsuit claims that the school district violated the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of John Lancellotta, a Rhode Island public school teacher.
“The decision to opt-out of a union should not cost someone their job,” said Derk Wilcox, senior attorney for the Mackinac Center. “Not renewing John Lancellotta’s contract in retaliation for his opting out of the union is a clear violation of his constitutional rights. School districts across the country must recognize and respect public employee’s First Amendment rights as protected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision.”
After 12 years of teaching in a different district, Lancellotta began teaching Spanish and Italian for West Warwick Schools in 2018. During his time at the district, he received positive teacher evaluations and had no complaints from students, parents, or colleagues.
In February of 2019, Lancellotta told his union representative that he planned to leave his union and was informed by the representative that, “In my twenty-seven years here, the [school district] has never carried an (sic) non-union member in it’s (sic) employment.” Lancellotta was then asked to meet with his department head, who was an active member on two union committees, and the union representative. After the meeting, Lancellotta decided not to leave the union and instead pay a portion of his dues towards student scholarships.
Lancellotta reconsidered his union membership later that year and fully resigned in December of 2019. Four days later, the department head and a member of the administration decided it would not renew his contract, denying him tenure and effectively firing him. This could not have been based on his performance, given that in an evaluation a month prior, Lancellotta earned “highly effective” or “effective” ratings in every category. He began the appeal process after the school board approved the decision to not renew his contract in February in 2020.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the appeal was not heard until nearly two years later in December of 2021. It showed school officials had solely relied on the department head’s recommendation not to renew Lancellotta’s contract and did not take into account his performance. It was also found that both the school’s and union’s lawyers collaborated regarding the school’s position in preparation for the hearing.
“School districts across our state are violating the constitutional rights of their own teachers,” said Mike Stenhouse, CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity. “West Warwick was one of about a dozen school districts in Rhode Island our Center identified in a report last March that maintained blatantly unconstitutional language in its collective bargaining agreement, deceiving teachers into believing they must pay the union. To then manifest this bogus language into illegal action by firing John Lancellota is an injustice that the Courts must remedy.”
The Mackinac Center’s “My Pay My Say” initiative partnered with the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity to promote mypaymysayri.com, which is where Lancellotta first shared his story.