Courthouse Employees Properly Barred from Wearing any type of Union Regalia 

The Court of Appeal granted a writ petition and set aside parts of a Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) decision. The court held that the superior court's valid interest in ensuring the appearance of impartiality justified a personnel rule barring courthouse employees from, among other things, wearing union regalia anywhere in the courthouse.

The Superior Court of Fresno County issued rules prohibiting court employees from (1) wearing clothing or adornments with writings or images, including pins, lanyards and other accessories; (2) soliciting during working hours for any purpose without prior court approval; (3) distributing literature during nonworking time in working areas; and (4) displaying writings or images not published by the court in work areas visible to the public. The court employees' union filed an unfair practice charge with PERB, alleging that the rules violated the Trial Court Employment Protection and Governance Act.

PERB agreed, finding that the superior court rules prohibiting employees from wearing union regalia anywhere in the courthouse and from displaying images that are not published by the court in work areas visible to the public were overly broad and interfered with rights protected by the Trial Court Act. It also determined that the restriction on soliciting during work hours and the ban on distributing literature in working areas were ambiguous and overly broad. PERB considered and upheld its authority to remedy these violations and ordered the superior court to rescind the rules. The court filed a writ petition challenging PERB's decision.

The court of appeal granted the court's writ petition, holding that PERB erred in finding that all of the challenged rules violated the Trial Court Act. The court explained that the superior court has a valid interest in regulating its workforce to ensure that the judicial process appears impartial to all appearing before it. Under the existing law and the facts presented regarding interactions with the public in the relevant courthouses, this interest was sufficient to justify the broad restrictions on employee clothing adopted by the superior court.

Further, the superior court's bans on soliciting during working hours and displaying images in areas visible to the public were not ambiguous and thus were properly adopted. The court agreed with PERB, however, that a regulation prohibiting the distribution of literature in working areas was ambiguous as to the meaning of "working areas." Separation of powers concerns did not prohibit PERB from imposing a remedy with respect to that regulation. The court accordingly affirmed PERB's decision invalidating the prohibition on distributing literature, but set aside PERB's remaining conclusions. Justice Franson dissented in part, finding that the majority erred in upholding a rule barring all courthouse employees from wearing or displaying any item of union regalia.

Fresno County Superior Court v. PERB, December 17, 2018.

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