By  on March 24, 2009

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied a petition for a Writ of Certiorari filed by the former Union of Needletrades, Industrial & Textile Employees, handing a victory to a group of employees at Cintas Corp., the nation’s largest laundry industry, who sued the union over privacy rights violations during an organizing drive.

UNITE’s Supreme Court petition stemmed from a lawsuit filed in 2004 by a group of Cintas employees who accused the union of violating their privacy when organizers used license-plate numbers on cars found in Cintas parking lots to access information contained in state motor vehicle records for the workers’ home addresses, according to court documents.

UNITE, which merged with the Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees International in 2004, unsuccessfully argued in court documents that the strategy of obtaining home addresses in their 2002 Cintas organizing campaign was a traditional union practice known as “tagging” and “has been recognized as a usual channel of communications with employees.”

A Philadelphia District Court judge found the union’s labor organizing activities “violated plaintiffs’ privacy rights” under the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994 and awarded monetary and injunctive relief to the plaintiffs. The court also certified the lawsuit as a class action, comprising 1,758 to 2,005 people whose driver’s record information UNITE obtained during the Cintas campaign.

While the district court awarded $2,500 in liquidated damages, it has not yet ruled on the specific size of the class and the amount for which each class plaintiff is entitled, according to David Picker, an attorney with Spector Gadon & Rosen PC representing the Cintas employees.

Picker said the Supreme Court’s decision “means that the case will go forward in the District Court to determine the relief for the plaintiffs in the class action.” He said the court must readdress the question of punitive damages, as well, which could increase the amount each person receives.

The Supreme Court action comes at a difficult time for the former UNITE, which has been embroiled in an internal political war with separate factions of UNITE HERE that led to the creation of a separate union over the weekend, on Monday the UNITE breakaway faction said it was joining the Service Employees International Union. UNITE estimated the judgment could result in damages of $4.3 million. The union’s total potential liability, if other class action suits are brought, could reach as high as $30 million, the petition stated.

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