AFGE and Workplace Inequality


Multiculturalism has become a common feature in today’s interconnected societies due to globalization and technological advancements. This phenomenon presents a new challenge for the workplace environment, specifically in the quest to attain social equity. Organizations have to be actively committed to fairness, justice, and equality in the workplace in terms of how individual employees are treated. Therefore, government institutions have put in place elaborate measures to promote the concept of social equity as part of embracing multiculturalism. However, despite the many well-meaning policies, in some cases, incidences of workplace inequality are reported in various government organizations. This paper discusses a case of workplace inequality that was reported in the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

The Organization

The organization involved in this case is the AFGE and the involved stakeholders are mainly workers of the labor union. The main person of interest is AFGE’s President, J. David Cox, and the then communications director, Brett Copeland. The story involves other employees, both junior and senior, who recorded statements concerning the workplace inequality issue being discussed.

Sequence of Events

In April 2017, Brett Copeland, as a newly promoted communications director at AFGE was sexually abused by his boss, David Cox, the organization’s president. According to Copeland, as he was leaving a meeting heading to his hotel room in Palm Springs California, he ran into Cox in a bar (Eidelson, 2019). Cox then started declaring his love for Copeland before inviting him for a drink at his hotel room.

At one point, Cox leaned in for a hug and licked Copeland’s ear. Earlier on, Cox had placed his hand on Copeland’s shoulder while he was urinating. According to Copeland, Cox’s actions amounted to sexual harassment and thus he resigned immediately after he got back to Washington. Copeland filed a complaint with the union’s executive council for the appropriate actions to be taken. Part of what went right is that Cox immediately recused himself and took a leave of absence until the investigations were over (Eidelson, 2019). The union’s executive council referred the matter to an outside investigator to ensure the investigation is fair, impartial, and unbiased.

Rules and Policies

Cox’s actions amounted to sexual harassment according to AFGE’s definition of such as any “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature… has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment” (AFGE, 2012, p. 1). AFGE encourages victims of sexual harassment to report any case, which is part of its policy against such conduct. Therefore, Copeland did the right thing, followed the set rules, and reported the matter through the right channel.

Additionally, the executive council followed the set policies, asked Cox to take leave of absence, and launched an investigation. According to AFGE (2012), “Once the agency is aware of the harassment, it must take action necessary to correct the problem. At a minimum, if the investigation reveals that harassment has taken place, the agency needs to investigate the situation and discipline the harasser” (p. 22). Therefore, the agency interpreted this policy correctly and responded appropriately to Copeland’s complaint.

The core ethical principles related to multiculturalism and gender equity to resolve ethical dilemmas at work include respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. Respect demands the honoring of the dignity and worth of all people by treating them with civility, courtesy, and decency regardless of their backgrounds or sexuality. Similarly, people should be responsible for their decisions and actions, to pursue excellence, diligence, and self-restraint. Fairness encompasses a range of morally justifiable outcomes based on impartiality and equity for all. Caring involves being genuinely interested in the welfare of others while citizenship underlines how people should behave as part of a community.

A good citizen, which is an employee in this context, knows the laws and obeys them thus promoting the concept of co-existence within the context of multiculturalism. These ethical principles, when applied in a culturally diverse workplace, work in concert to promote the guiding principles of multiculturalism for peaceful coexistence. Additionally, these principles uphold the concept of gender equity whereby everyone is treated with fairness according to his or her respective needs, which ultimately solves ethical dilemmas in the workplace.


One of the important lessons learned from this incidence is that while women have suffered disproportionately from the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, men are also victims as shown in the case of Copeland and Cox. Additionally, when people are in positions of power, they are likely to perpetrate sexual harassment. Cox acted from a point of authority because Copeland was his junior.

However, this case shows that with clear policies and rules in place, sexual harassment and other forms of workplace inequalities could be dealt with satisfactorily for a healthy co-existence of all individuals. The central social equity concepts in this scenario include the commitment to fairness and justice when formulating workplace policies. The AFGE’s policies are clear and with their help, justice was achieved with Cox taking a prolonged leave of absence and eventually resigning following his conduct.


AFGE. (2012). Stop sexual harassment before it stops you: A guide for AFGE members and representatives. Web.

Eidelson, J. (2019). President of major U.S. union accused of sexual harassment. Bloomberg. Web.

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