Workforce

AFGE president takes leave in the wake of sexual harassment allegations

Federal union chief J. David Cox flanked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (Photo credit: Chase Gunter/FCW) 

AFGE President J. David Cox flanked by Democratic Party leaders at a Capitol Hill event. (Photo credit: Chase Gunter)

J. David Cox, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, is on a leave of absence in the wake of an Oct. 27 report that he's facing sexual harassment allegations from at least 10 employees.

The allegations range from unwanted touching, sexual overtures and lewd comments. Former communications director Brett Copeland told Bloomberg BusinessWeek that after a promotion to the post of communications director was promoted in April 2017, Cox tried to stick his tongue in his ear, hugged him and told him he loved him. Other former and current employees said that Cox made comments about being sexually aroused by employees, made inappropriate comments about their bodies and asked a secretary to shower with him.

Cox pushed back on the allegations in a statement shared with reporters by AFGE's press office.

"It is my life's work to lift up my sisters and brothers in the workplace and I am truly sorry if I ever made anyone feel uncomfortable by my words or actions. That was never my intention," he said. "That said, I cannot abide lies and scurrilous, politically motivated attacks. I am a lifelong defender of due process and trust the investigation will sort the fact from fiction."

An AFGE spokesperson told FCW that Copeland brought his complaint in 2017 to AFGE’s deputy chief of staff who immediately referred the matter to AFGE's chief counsel. Cox denied the allegations and Copeland was given the option of filing a formal complaint. Copeland opted not to do so.

"It felt like I was protecting the union by not pushing forward," Copeland told Bloomberg BusinessWeek. "But in retrospect, it seems like I was protecting him — or that's how it turned out."

When new allegations arose, the union immediately informed Cox, who ordered an investigation, recused himself from that investigation and opted to take leave of absence as of Oct. 27 while the new probe is underway.

In a letter to the union's National Executive Council, Cox wrote that, "[a]t a time when federal and DC government employees are under daily attack, it is imperative that their union not be distracted from the task at hand."

AFGE represents 700,000 federal and District of Columbia government employees and has 313,000 dues paying members.

AFGE's executive board and general counsel have referred the allegations to an independent committee for review, who will then refer the matter to a third party for investigation if need be. process and that this matter does not distract AFGE from the important challenges facing our members.

AFGE said that National Treasurer-Secretary Everett Kelly will take over Cox’s duties during the union's internal probe.

About the Author

Lia Russell is a former staff writer and associate editor at FCW.

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