Politics

Federal Workers Accuse Biden Labor Ally of Sexual Misconduct, Racial Discrimination

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Federal workers are accusing powerful Democratic labor allies of gross sexual misconduct, ranging from the use of a company limo to visit male prostitutes to licking the ear of a subordinate.

A new lawsuit accuses 16 senior officials of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a public-sector union with more than 300,000 members, of either directly perpetuating racial and sexual misconduct or helping to cover up of such incidents.

The lawsuit contains new details about former union president Jeffrey David Cox's abuse of power as the top honcho of the union, alleging that he frequently used the company limo to travel to strip clubs or procure male prostitutes. It also accuses his successor, Dr. Everett Kelley, of shielding Cox and other union officials accused of sexual abuse and harassment. The members claim leadership frequently ignored allegations or reappointed accused officials to their posts shortly after they were removed.

"The toxic environment that existed under Cox continues unabated after his departure and under Defendants' leadership," the lawsuit says.

AFGE did not respond to a request for comment.

The union is closely affiliated with the Democratic Party: It endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 and Cox served in several posts in the Obama administration.

The union also provided an early boost to Biden's campaign, hosting the former vice president at an event one week before he officially announced his candidacy. AFGE will most likely endorse the vice president for the 2020 election since its internal poll showed that a majority of its members support Biden over President Donald Trump.

The government union is also a prodigious campaign donor, funneling more than $1.1 million to Democratic operations such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the 2018 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The group also spent $1.8 million on lobbying in 2019, advocating for pro-labor legislation.

AFGE has faced a #MeToo reckoning in recent months after dozens of current and former staffers and members accused Cox of multiple incidents of sexual assault, including one incident in which Cox licked the ear of a subordinate.

The union has since distanced itself from its former president and tapped Kelley to replace him in February. But with fresh allegations of sexual impropriety leveled against additional top union members, the new lawsuit could throw a wrench into AFGE's plans to move forward.

A prior independent investigation into Cox's conduct—commissioned by AFGE—largely let Kelley off the hook. The lawsuit, however, contests the investigation's conclusion, accusing Kelley of routinely covering up Cox's troubling conduct. For example, when Cox inappropriately touched a male pool attendant at a hotel during an AFGE conference in 2017, Kelley did some "fast talking" to convince the hotel managers to allow the AFGE delegation to stay, according to a sworn statement provided by Pam Baca, an AFGE official. Cox suffered no repercussions for his sexual misconduct other than being forced to stay in his hotel room for the duration of the conference.

"Defendant Kelley did not appear to be alarmed or even surprised by the … sexual misconduct complaint," according to the lawsuit. "In fact, Defendant Kelley's response to Ms. Baca concerning the news was casual and even jocular."

Kelley also allegedly tolerated sexual misconduct allegations against his subordinates. In 2015, an AFGE trustee removed Jamie Dukes, vice president of a local union for a Georgia Army base, after learning that Dukes sent pictures of his genitalia to female union members. Kelley ordered Dukes's reinstatement one month later, allowing him to continue his predatory behaviors, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also brings to light new racial discrimination involving Cox and other senior union officials. Cox repeatedly referred to his Pakistani limo driver as a "sand n—" and drunkenly told his African-American driver, "You know we white folks are going to hang you black people," according to the legal document. The problem went beyond Cox, however. When a local union president called the union's highest-ranking black official a "n—," the senior officials of the union "took no remedial or disciplinary action" against the president. Instead, they attempted to discipline the black official for "overreacting to being called a slur."

Cox's rampant abuse of power was an "open secret" shared by all members of the union's senior leadership, according to the lawsuit. Cox, however, prevented senior officials from speaking out "through a combination of cronyism and fear—rewarding his allies with bonuses and/or extravagant trips at union members' expense, while threatening to destroy anyone who challenged his authority," according to the lawsuit. The plaintiffs add that the officials continue to protect Cox, criticizing them for signing a secret separation agreement that allegedly paid Cox to walk away from the union.

The plaintiffs in the case are demanding thousands of dollars from the defendants, citing the emotional anguish and deleterious health effects of the union official's actions. They also request that the court establish an "independent, neutral federal monitor" to oversee a series of antidiscrimination and anticorruption reforms for the union.

"Defendants are responsible for Cox's actions that were the direct and proximate cause of the racial discrimination, pain and suffering and damages suffered by Plaintiffs," the complaint says.

The case is now before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.