A federal judge last week ordered the nation’s largest federal employee union to reinstate a top executive after the judge found that the ousted official’s lawsuit had a “likelihood” of success if sent to a jury.
Last August, the American Federation of Government Employees removed National Secretary-Treasurer Eugene Hudson from office on grounds that he used union resources for personal purposes. Hudson admitted that he instructed an AFGE staffer to send an email on his behalf to union members shortly after the 2016 election, but he denied that the action violated policy, and in a request for an injunction he claimed the investigating committee was biased against him.
On Nov. 9, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge James Boasberg granted Hudson that injunction in a 17-page opinion and ordered AFGE to reinstate him to his position “effective immediately.” The crux of Boasberg’s decision is that Hudson could expect a “likelihood of success” that the removal process was biased against him since the investigation committee was chaired by National Vice President Gerald Swanke, who has a track record of butting heads with Hudson.
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Although Hudson, who had announced that he planned to run for AFGE president in 2018 late last year, was ousted by a 12-1 vote by the union’s national executive council, his removal was recommended by a three-member investigative committee, led by Swanke. AFGE President J. David Cox and Hudson both abstained from the vote.
Boasberg and Hudson noted that Swanke and another union member filed a charge against Hudson that he “had acted in a way unbecoming a union member while at a local meeting” in 2015. The investigating committee in that case determined the charge to be “baseless,” and it noted a “historical animosity between” Swanke and Hudson. Hudson also pointed to a tweet from Swanke that accused him of being a “Master Grifter that can blow $800k overbudget and accuse others of fiscal irresponsibility.”
Boasberg described Swanke’s position at the center of the committee investigating allegations against Hudson as a “compelling factor” in claims of bias.
“When one-third of a deliberating body is potentially biased, the judgment of the entire tribunal must be met with skepticism,” Boasberg wrote. “That principle is compounded when, as here, that member heads the committee . . . In sum, Hudson has a likelihood of success on his claim that retaining Swanke—someone who previously filed charges against Hudson and later referred to him as a ‘Master Grifter’—‘presented a “significant danger of bias” ’ such that he did not receive a full and fair hearing.”
In his decision, Boasberg downplayed AFGE’s assertion that Hudson’s email to union members could be interpreted as “campaign literature” ahead of his run for union president in 2018, describing it as “being built upon a host of assumptions.”
“[This argument] also depends upon AFGE’s proving that the email was campaign speech, a fact hotly contested by Hudson,” Boasberg wrote. “Defendant itself does not even fully embrace the claim, only noting that ‘some members of the NEC believed plaintiff’s e-mailed statement to be campaign speech.’ ”
The judge noted that his injunction only reinstates Hudson temporarily, and it allows AFGE to conduct a “new, fair hearing” to determine his future. AFGE spokesman Tim Kauffman declined to comment on the case or the union’s plans moving forward, citing its status as an ongoing investigation.