By Donald C. Collins
Q My association would like to remove a problem member from the association. More than half the members in the group refuse to work with the problem member because he is so difficult to deal with. How can we refuse him membership without causing legal problems?
AAssociations should set out their terminable offenses, and their termination procedures in their bylaws. The last thing that an association wants is to have no rules and procedures for terminating a member. Almost as bad is having rules and procedures, and then either not using them or using the wrong ones.
An association doesn’t want to terminate a member because it confused a fineable offense with a terminable offense. An association also doesn’t want to use termination for something that its bylaws treat as a factor in determining what level an official should work. Indeed, a problem member may become less of a problem when assigned to the proper level, evaluated and given the chance to appeal when there’s a disagreement with evaluations.
Procedurally, an officials association should give the member who is up for expulsion notice of the charges and an opportunity for a hearing, i.e. due process. Those due process rights are vital in a traditional association because all members have an ownership interest in the association; the members’ rights and relationships to each other are governed by the association bylaws.
Those bylaws are a contract between the association members under the law. There are some structures that make it easier to terminate a member. One common practice is to make new members probationary members for one or two years. While probationary members are terminable at will, an association should be very cautious in removing a member who is difficult to deal with. In fact, it may be advisable to say as little as possible when removing such a member.
Unhappy business relationships with problem people occasionally have a way of morphing into lawsuits — and even a probationary member can’t be terminated for reasons that violate the law, such as race, color, gender, national origin, age, and religious beliefs. An association doesn’t want to be in court having a judge determine whether the association members really just didn’t like an official or whether they subjected the official to discrimination.
Officials may also be relatively easy to terminate if your association is really a proprietorship or a corporation that has individual contracts with members. Indeed, one can plausibly argue that a person whose contract was not renewed wasn’t actually terminated. They simply weren’t renewed. Still, a non-renewal for one of the illegal reasons mentioned above won’t fly.
At the end of the day, an association should try to implement practices that reduce the number of problem officials. An association that trains and evaluates in a manner that members feel is objective, and then links assignments to the training and evaluating, reduces the likelihood of ill will. Of course, there will always be unhappy officials, and some of them will become problem officials. An association has to prepare for them by brainstorming the types of issues that it feels are terminable, and then consulting with local counsel to ensure that bylaws are up to the task.
Donald C. Collins is the executive director of the San Francisco Section of the California Interscholastic Federation. He is a longtime basketball official and lawyer.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice.
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