A dispute that began late last year over whether a Memphis police lieutenant can serve as head of the labor union representing rank-and-file officers is going to court.
The Memphis Police Association and Lt. Gene Hulley this week filed suit in federal court against the city of Memphis seeking an injunction that allows Hulley to participate in contract talks between the city and the union that began this month.
The lawsuit assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Hardy Mays also seeks compensatory and punitive damages in an unspecified amount.
Hulley was elected president of the union in November, marking the third time a lieutenant has served in the post. But Police Director Larry Godwin announced in December that he had not given nor had Hulley sought permission to serve in the post. Godwin also pointed out that the two other union presidents who wore silver bars, Steve Brown and Samuel Williams, had sought and been granted permission from previous police directors before they were elected union leaders.
Godwin said in December he has a different view of officers above the rank of sergeant serving as officers in the union.
“The rank of lieutenant and higher (management) are not covered by this agreement,” Godwin wrote in an information bulletin of the city contract with police officers. “As such, members of management will not hold an elected office with the Memphis Police Association.”
Hulley showed up for a working lunch with city leaders in February designed to set the stage for coming labor negotiations with the police and other unions representing city employees, according to the lawsuit filed Monday. At the luncheon, Deputy Chief Jim Tusant ordered him to leave.
Police contract negotiations opened last week and Hulley attended as an observer. But the city took the position that Hulley couldn’t meet with the union’s negotiating team when it caucused in private, “and he could not have any involvement in the negotiation process. Lt. Hulley faced discipline if he did not comply,” according to the lawsuit.
Hulley and the union claim the city’s actions have violated their Constitutional rights to free speech and assembly and the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.