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Judge Dismisses Most of Abuse Victims’ Lawsuit Against AFGE Officials

After describing claims against individual AFGE officials over their inaction to stop former President J. David Cox’s sexual abuse as not “viable,” a federal judge preserved only four claims against the union and Cox himself.

A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed seven of the 11 claims alleged in a lawsuit brought by victims of former American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox against the former union leader, the union itself and 13 other AFGE officials, citing a variety of jurisdictional and other technical issues.

Last year, a dozen current and former AFGE employees, union members and contractors sued Cox, the union members and the union in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, accusing Cox of sexual harassment, discrimination and misuse of union funds, and accusing the union and several key leaders of not doing enough to prevent Cox’s alleged misdeeds.

In 2019, media reports implicated Cox in a pattern of sexual harassment of AFGE employees and contractors, including the prolonged harassment and abuse of a driver at the car service hired for Cox’s transportation, which he also used to go to bars and strip clubs. Cox took a leave of absence, and resigned in February 2020 after additional allegations surfaced, although he continued to deny the allegations against him.

In a 67-page ruling, District Judge John Bates dismissed all of the charges levied against individual union officials, as well as claims brought under D.C. law, preserving only the federal discrimination, harassment and misuse of funds claims against Cox and the union itself.

Regarding the claims that various union officials violated their fiduciary duty to act only on behalf of AFGE members by failing to prevent Cox from engaging in harassment and discrimination, Bates said the union’s written rules and policies do not support those contentions. And on the matter of Cox’s alleged use of union funds on personal travel to strip clubs, Bates wrote that the only union officials who had oversight of his spending are not defendants in the lawsuit.

“In sum, [the plaintiffs] have not plausibly alleged that the individual AFGE defendants violated any duties under the AFGE constitution or AFGE’s EEO policy to report, document and investigate complaints of Cox’s misconduct or take disciplinary action against him,” he wrote. “[Plaintiffs] are not wrong that the individual AFGE defendants had the ability to take additional actions to address allegations of misconduct against Cox . . . But that does not mean that the individual AFGE defendants violated their fiduciary duties to AFGE by failing to take the exact actions that [the plaintiffs] sought.”

Bates also declined to assert jurisdiction over a number of claims relating to discrimination allegedly perpetrated by the 12 union officials named in the suit that were tied to alleged violations of local D.C. law since, with the dismissal of the fiduciary duty claims, there is no longer a corresponding federal complaint against them.

“With the exception of [two] claims that derive from the same incidents as their [federal] claims, the court will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over all non-federal claims in this lawsuit because the non-federal claims substantially predominate over the surviving federal ones,” the judge wrote. “To do otherwise would require the court to expend a substantial amount of resources wading through dozens of sets of non-federal claims—which arise under an unknown variety of different state laws—that have no meaningful connection to any remaining federal claims in this case. And it would mean that the individual AFGE defendants—who no longer have any federal claims lodged against them—would nonetheless be forced to defend against this bevy of non-federal claims in federal court.”

The plaintiffs in the case are now expected to file an amended complaint focused on the claims that have not been dismissed, including allegations that Cox misused union funds, and that Cox and the union wrongfully terminated one employee, while both federal and D.C.-based allegations of a hostile work environment against another employee may also proceed.