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GC Defamation Suit Against

Union Attorney Lays an Egg


Tile Workers Lawyer Covered

by Special Privilege


            There has been another state court ruling on alleged union torts; this one found no liability.

            Kevin Atkinson worked for Dobbins Group as a site superintendent at a project at Fort Sheridan.  Dobbins had subcontracted floor installation to Polco Flooring, a nonunion subcontractor, and Local 67 of the Tile Installers Union picketed the site in July 2003.  During the occasions when picketers were present Atkinson confronted them, particularly the business agent.  Although he claimed they were obstructing workers the picketers claimed that he threw their drinks and food on the ground, insulted them, stabbed their inflatable rat to deflate it, and otherwise harassed them.  On July 28 Atkinson was arrested, and shortly thereafter Frank Marco, union counsel, wrote a letter to Dobbins Group.

            Seeking reimbursement for the damage to union property, Marco’s letter advised that “your employee Kevin Atkinson…as your superintendent, ….has destroyed and damaged property belonging to our local.”  The letter went on to threaten litigation, but a third party covered the cost of the damage. 

            An appellate court has upheld the dismissal of a subsequent defamation claim by Atkinson against individual union officials, including the business agent present during the picketing.   Kevin Atkinson v. Ralph Affronti, et al, No. 1-05-3992 (1st Dist. Dec. 2006).  Such a letter “is absolutely privileged to public defamatory matter concerning another in communications preliminary to a proposed judicial proceeding,” the court ruled.  An attorney must be free to “candidly and zealously represent his client in communications to potential opposing parties in litigation or other proceedings,” without the potential danger of legal exposure because of his efforts.

            Atkinson had argued that the privilege should not apply when such a communication is made in bad faith, but the court ruled that the privilege was absolute.