Houston Janitorial Service Wins $7.8 Million from Union Over Disparagement September 6, 2016
HOUSTON – A Harris County jury has delivered a $5.3 million verdict against the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for wrongly disparaging Professional Janitorial Service of Houston when the company refused to recognize the union without a secret ballot by its employees. The judge added $2.5 million in prejudgment interest for a total of $7.8 million owed to the company. (See “Judgment against union grows to $7.8 million”)
The case was filed 10 years ago by Professional Janitorial based on claims that SEIU issued an onslaught of false statements to try to harm the company for refusing to give in to the union’s demands. In the four-week trial, jurors heard evidence that SEIU officials systematically lied about the janitorial service to its customers and caused the company to lose millions of dollars in business. The evidence showed union members rejoiced and took credit for causing the janitorial business to lose some of its customers.
Attorneys Nathan Campbell, Adam Milasincic and firm co-founder John Zavitsanos of AZA, or Ahmad, Zavitsanos & Mensing, represented Professional Janitorial. Mr. Zavitsanos told the jury that SEIU is “an evil, evil organization that used an intimidating campaign of extortion to try to run the janitorial service out of business.” He said the union targeted the company’s clients with faked tales of labor complaints. “Like waves on the ocean, it never stopped,” he told the jury.
The trial’s final arguments were covered by the Houston Chronicle in an article headlined “Did union go too far in organizing janitors?” and by the conservative website Empower Texans in a post headlined “Union’s Blackmail Playbook Gets Day In Court.”
The Houston Chronicle reported: “The case, involving Professional Janitorial Service and the SEIU’s efforts to organize the company’s workers, pits what the union says are its constitutional rights to free speech against the company’s claim that the union’s unfounded charges that it broke the law, drove clients away and cost it millions of dollars.”
Mr. Zavitsanos’ comments to the jury about SEIU were noted in the Chronicle story: “They know they are busted for the first time ever … You’re it. The 12 of you can stop it.” Mr. Zavitsanos argued that the SEIU’s attacks went well beyond free speech, and instead were part of a calculated strategy to harm Professional Janitorial.
The Empower Texans website focused on SEIU’s “tactics derived from the infamous ‘Contract Campaign Manual.’” The website article continued: “Although it was a directive compiled and delivered by their president on advancing campaigns, throughout the trial the SEIU’s witnesses all claimed to have never seen or taken direction from the document which says things like: ‘Union members sometimes must act in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi and disobey laws which are used to enforce injustice against working people.’” Empower Texans noted that Mr. Zavitsanos told jurors neither King nor Gandhi would condone the underhanded tactics of SEIU.
The verdict was covered by the Houston Chronicle on the top of its its front page and by Texas Lawbook in “Jury finds against union, awards $5.3 million in damages to cleaning firm” (subscription required). Mr. Campbell was quoted about the case in Law360’s story “Texas Union Owes $5.3M For Trashing Houston Janitor Biz” (subscription required). Mr. Zavitsanos and Mr. Campbell were both quoted by Texas Lawyer in “Janitor Company Scores $5.3M Verdict Against Union” (subscription required). And an op-ed about this case appeared in The Wall Street Journal titled “Texas Janitors Mop the Floor With a Bullying Union” (subscription required). The Southeast Texas Record covered the case in “SEIU civil trial calls into question inner workings of labor union.”
The case is Professional Janitorial Service of Houston v Service Employees International Union, No. 2007-27181, heard before Judge Erin Lunceford in Harris County’s 61st District Court.
AZA, or Ahmad, Zavitsanos & Mensing, is a Houston-based law firm that is home to true courtroom lawyers with a formidable track record in complex commercial litigation, including energy, intellectual property, and business dispute cases. AZA is recognized in Chambers USA 2016 among the best in Texas commercial law; U.S. News & World Report and The Best Lawyers in America as one of the country’s best commercial litigation firms in 2016; and Law360 as one of only 13 Texas Powerhouse law firms. National corporate counsel named AZA one of the country’s best in client service among law firms serving the Fortune 1000. Read more at https://azalaw.com.