NASHVILLE, Tenn.— The Tennessee Education Association (TEA), on behalf of members and local education associations, filed in Davidson County Chancery Court a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ban on payroll dues deduction for public school educators. The lawsuit names the Lee Administration and the Tennessee Department of Education as defendants and outlines how the payroll dues deduction ban violates the Tennessee Constitution. TEA is requesting a restraining order as well as temporary and permanent injunctions of the payroll dues deduction ban.


The administration’s controversial payroll dues ban – added as a separate section of a bill raising the minimum pay for educators – singled out teachers as the only public employees in Tennessee prohibited from using voluntary payroll deductions for professional organizations. The enacting date for the legislation is July 1, 2023.    


“Sliding a payroll dues deduction ban in a bill to raise the minimum pay was a cynical attack on Tennessee teachers. The ban was mean-spirited, and the way it passed was unconstitutional,” said TEA President Tanya Coats. “We filed this suit to protect the rights of our members and highlight the missteps made by the administration when they pushed this attack on teachers. We look forward to our day in court.”  


TEA’s lawsuit identifies several ways the payroll dues deduction section violates the state constitution: 


  • The inclusion of the payroll dues deduction ban with the bill’s pay-raise provision violates the single-subject requirement of the state constitution.
  • The bill’s caption did not cover the payroll deduction ban.
  • The caption failed to disclose that the Act amends PECCA (the Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act, the state’s negotiation law) and repeals the PECCA provision allowing dues deductions to be negotiated and included in binding MOUs between school districts and professional teachers’ organizations.
  • The bill negates current MOUs with local associations and violates thousands of individual membership agreements where educators signed up for payroll dues deduction voluntarily offered by their school system.


“The law is unconstitutional, and we filed suit to protect the rights of our membership to have their voluntary dues deducted from their paychecks, something they have been able to do for many decades as a matter of convenience and at no cost to school districts,” said Steve McCloud, TEA’s chief attorney. “Singling out public school educators, who are mostly female, and treating them differently than other public servants is just wrong and serves no public purpose. Tennessee’s public school teachers deserve the same respect our laws give to state employees, firefighters, and law enforcement.”


Thousands of voluntary members of TEA signed up for payroll deduction for dues and banning that practice after the fact unconstitutionally interferes with their membership agreements, jeopardizing their services and benefits.       


McCloud noted more than half of Tennessee’s teachers work under the benefits of an MOU negotiated with their local school boards under PECCA. Those contracts often provide for payroll deductions for professional associations like TEA, explicitly permitted by Tennessee’s PECCA law. The administration’s bill didn’t amend PECCA, the caption didn’t cover PECCA, and the add-on payroll dues ban conflicts with PECCA and existing MOUs.