AFGE’s top leader resigns amid months-long sexual harassment investigation

The top leader of the largest federal employee union has resigned, the American Federation of Government Employees said Friday.

J. David Cox, who in October had announced his leave of absence while the union investigated allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct made against him, will step down as AFGE national president.

His resignation is effective at the end of the day on Friday, the union said.

“In accepting his resignation, AFGE concluded the processing of the November 2019 internal charges, and former President Cox has forfeited his right to hold or run for any AFGE-elected office in perpetuity,” the union said Friday afternoon in a statement. “This resignation does not affect the investigation being conducted by Working IDEAL, nor does it alter AFGE’s commitment to process the February 2020 or any future charges filed against Cox pursuant to the AFGE constitution.”

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FCW first reported Cox’s resignation.

Everett Kelley, AFGE’s national secretary-treasurer who had been serving as the union’s acting national president since last fall, will permanently lead the union.

“Under National Secretary-Treasurer Kelley’s leadership as acting president during the past few months, the important work AFGE performs every day on behalf of the 700,000 federal and D.C. government employees we represent has continued uninterrupted,” the union said. “As AFGE members welcome Dr. Kelley as their new national president, they should be certain that their union will continue leading the fight against attacks on their pay, their benefits, their retirement and their rights on the job.”

Cox had taken a leave absence after media outlets reported a series of allegations made against him. In an account to Bloomberg Businessweek, Brett Copeland, AFGE’s former communications director, described a series of interactions that he said made him uncomfortable during business meetings in Palm Springs, California, in 2017.

Copeland, according to Bloomberg, said Cox had stuck his tongue in his ear and asked him to check out the jacuzzi in his hotel room.

Copeland was one of 10 people who said they had experienced or witnessed inappropriate behavior from Cox. They also said Cox made lewd comments about their bodies.

Cox had denied the allegations and said he chose to take a leave of absence “so as not to serve as a distraction.”

AFGE hired Working IDEAL, a consulting firm that specializes in workplace diversity, equity and inclusion, to investigate the claims made against Cox. Jenny Yang, who served as former chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the Obama administration, is a partner at the company.

Since he first shared his experiences about working at AFGE, Copeland said he’s heard from former colleagues and others who also described harassment and abuse from Cox.

“I am thankful for their bravery in sharing their own stories and hope this news allows them to heal,” he said in a statement. “I am still awaiting the final report from Working IDEAL and look forward to hearing their recommendations on how to make AFGE a workplace that truly values the dignity and safety of its employees. There are obviously toxic issues at AFGE. I am disappointed that key members of management failed to protect employees, especially after I reported Cox’s behavior to them directly.”

At the union’s legislative conference earlier this month, Kelley told reporters he didn’t know when Working IDEAL would finish its investigation.

Cox was elected to his third term as national president last year. He was first elected as AFGE’s national president back in 2012.

Cox was a vocal presence during the 2013 and 2018 government shutdowns. AFGE, along with several other federal employee unions, had been locked in legal battles with the Trump administration over the president’s three workforce executive orders for much of the past year.

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