A Virginia federal judge handed food services giant Sodexo Inc., a win on Tuesday, denying a motion to dismiss the company's racketeering lawsuit against the Service Employees International Union.
In a one-page order (PDF), U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton wrote that he was denying the motion because Sodexo, a domestic subsidiary of French multinational corporation Sodexo S.A., "has stated a claim upon which relief can be had." He did not elaborate.
Sodexo filed suit in March in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, accusing the union of carrying out a negative publicity campaign in order to strong-arm exclusive access to Sodexo’s non-union employees. Sodexo claimed the union was attempting to unlawfully unionize employees and increase revenue in violation of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
In response, the labor group accused Sodexo of filing suit to divert attention from what the union characterized as the company's anti-union behavior. In the motion to dismiss (PDF), the SEIU argued that Sodexo failed to show that the publicity campaign amounted to the type of criminal activity and extortion envisioned under RICO.
In a statement, Sodexo General Counsel Robert Stern said that Hilton's ruling “validated” the company’s decision to file suit. Sodexo’s lead counsel is Hunton & Williams’ partner Gregory Robertson. University of Notre Dame Law School professor G. Robert Blakey, who helped draft the RICO statute, was recently granted permission by the court to join Sodexo’s legal team.
“This ruling clears the path to discovery and trial, allowing us to present evidence the SEIU has conspired to extort Sodexo by threatening financial damage unless we cave in to its demands,” Stern said.
The SEIU said in a statement that Hilton’s ruling “does not speak at all to the merits of Sodexo’s baseless claims.” The group is being represented by Bernard DiMuro of DiMuro Ginsberg in Alexandria, Va.
“The ruling means that SEIU will have an opportunity to prove the facts about our organization, our members, and our work regarding Sodexo,” the labor group said in the release. “We look forward to proving what this campaign is really about and defending our freedom to speak out against abuses by corporate entities.”