Federal judge rules STA violated First Amendment

The transit authority refused to display an ad on buses from Amalgamated Transit Union local.

Associated Press

SPOKANE — A federal judge has ruled that the Spokane Transit Authority violated the First Amendment when it refused to allow the union that represents bus drivers to buy advertisements on buses.

U.S. District Court Judge Justin L. Quackenbush issued a written ruling late last month on the case.

The civil lawsuit was filed earlier this year after the STA refused to display an ad on buses from the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1015, The Spokesman-Review reported.

The ad said: “Do you drive: Uber? Lyft? Charter Bus? School Bus? You have the Right to Organize!” The ad included the name and phone number of the union.

Attorneys for the STA argued that the ad was rejected because it violated the bus system’s policy on a “public issue.”

They contended the union “would be given the same opportunity as every other business to promote its services in the context of a proposed commercial transaction.”

But the judge disagreed, saying the STA’s rejection of the ad “was an unreasonable interpretation ” of its own policies and that the ad qualified as commercial and promotional advertising.

“The court finds STA violated ATU’s First Amendment rights by rejecting the proposed advertisement,” the judge wrote. “In the event STA continues its advertising program, STA shall not reject this proposed advertisement.”

The president of the union, Thomas Leighty, called it a big victory for the workers.

“STA was attempting to trample our First Amendment right to let workers at Uber, Lyft, charter bus and school bus companies know they have a right to a voice that will protect their interests on the job,” Leighty said in a press release.

Susan Meyer, chief executive officer of the STA, said they are exploring legal options.

“We respectfully disagree with the court’s opinion and we are in the process of evaluating next steps,” Meyer said in a statement.

The dispute began in 2016, when STA’s former advertising agency rejected the ad as not limited to commercial and promotional messages. The advertising agency had its contract terminated and STA is not currently accepting new bus ads, according to court records.

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