Former Barrington teachers file lawsuit against unions

Teachers’ attorney: ‘unions have an absolute obligation to defend teachers in a termination case’

By Josh Bickford
Posted 5/26/23

Brittany DiOrio, Stephanie Hines and Kerri Thurber are suing the national, state and local teachers unions.  

The three former Barrington teachers lost their jobs after violating the school …

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Former Barrington teachers file lawsuit against unions

Teachers’ attorney: ‘unions have an absolute obligation to defend teachers in a termination case’

Posted

Brittany DiOrio, Stephanie Hines and Kerri Thurber are suing the national, state and local teachers unions. 

The three former Barrington teachers lost their jobs after violating the school department’s vaccine mandate.

DiOrio, Hines and Thurber have since settled with the district and received back pay, compensation for damages, and have been offered their jobs back. 

Filed on Monday, May 22, the complaint against the National Education Association, NEARI, and NEA-Barrington alleges that unions failed to represent DiOrio, Thurber and Hines during their ordeal with the Barrington School Department. 

It specifically cites four counts: Breach of duty of fair representation; Violation of Title VII, employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin; Violation of Fair Employment Practices Act; and Violation of the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act.

“This was always part of our strategy,” said Greg Piccirilli, the attorney representing DiOrio, Hines and Thurber. “The unions have known that. They’ve known about these claims from the beginning.”

Piccirilli said the teachers unions were obligated to represent DiOrio, Hines and Thurber, but refused to do so. That message is repeated throughout the Superior Court complaint. The former teachers stated that they reached out to their union representatives once they learned they were going to be fired by the district.

“I was informed by the union that they would not file a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement, or otherwise engage in any actions to represent me in my termination, and that I had no choice but to either get vaccinated or resign from employment,” stated the complaint. 

The complaint alleges that the teachers were refused union representation a second time, during a pre-termination hearing. 

“Throughout the process of my termination from employment, my union refused to consider my religious exemption as a possible defense to my termination,” Hines stated in the complaint. 

“At no time was I given the opportunity to engage in an interactive process with my union regarding my religious exemption request, as required by Title VII and the RI Fair Employment Practices Act. In fact, my employer has repeatedly told me that my union was in agreement with the Committee that I should be terminated for refusing to take the vaccine.”

Piccirilli said his clients paid thousands of dollars in dues to the teachers unions over the years.

“The union totally abdicated its responsibility. They owed these young women a vigorous defense,” Piccirilli said. “Instead they (the union) acted complicit with the (Barrington School) Committee to fire these young women.

Piccirilli said DiOrio, Hines and Thurber were completely abandoned by the one group that was supposed to defend them. 

“They were left out in the cold,” he said. “They (the union) basically told them their careers would be over if they didn’t take the vaccine. They were willing to let that happen. They were encouraging that.”

Piccirilli said he believes the lawsuit will ensure that no other teacher is ever abandoned by the union.

“They (the union) need to be punished for their actions,” he said. “The next teacher that goes through this needs to know that their union will defend them.”

Piccirilli said the teachers union showed complete disdain for the teachers’ religious beliefs. 

“… unions have an absolute obligation to defend teachers in a termination case,” Piccirilli said. “The teacher could have committed murder and they (the union) have an obligation to defend them. 

“They’ve taken cases of teachers who were found guilty of sexual misconduct all the way to the Supreme Court, but they wouldn’t defend these young women.”

The Barrington Times reached out to NEARI but has not heard back yet.

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