Plumbers Union Settles Racial Discrimination Lawsuit

Charles W. Miller & Associates

Unions were created to protect the rights of American workers from those higher up who may not have their best interests in mind. Sometimes, however, the unions themselves can make bad decisions that end up negatively affecting a worker they are supposed to protect.

In 2008, Jon Stokes, who is African-American, was allegedly wrongfully terminated from his job as a shop steward at a construction site. He was immediately replaced with a white employee who had been on the job for only two months by the local plumber and pipefitters union. Stokes allegedly contacted union leaders regarding his termination being fueled by racism, but an investigation was never done. Because of this, the Division of Civil Rights filed a lawsuit.

An agent for the union said Stokes was terminated because people had complained he was too slow in filling their requests for materials, but the workers who had supposedly complained were never identified. Also, Stokes noted that he was never made aware of any issues before his termination.

Earlier this month, the union agreed to settle this matter with the Civil Rights Division. Several changes will be implemented because of this settlement. Union leaders will be required to attend training regarding civil rights law at the state and federal level. Policies that were previously lacking will be established, including how discrimination complaints should be reported and investigated. Anti-discrimination and harassment policies will be created and given to all union members.

While this settlement does not mean the union admitted any wrongdoing, the director of the Civil Rights Division was satisfied, saying “This is a fair resolution of some troubling allegations…It is vital that all employers strive to create a healthy workplace climate, and that every employee — from the home office to the job site — knows and understands the law.”

Jon Stokes has filed a personal lawsuit against the union and it is still pending.

All Kentucky employees, including union members, are protected by Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the Kentucky Civil Rights Act. Section 344.060 of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act addresses discrimination by unions. It states:

It is an unlawful practice for a labor organization:

(1) To exclude or to expel from its membership, or otherwise to discriminate against a member or applicant for membership because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or age forty (40) and over, or because the person is a qualified individual with a disability.

(2) To limit, segregate, or classify its membership or to classify or fail to refuse to refer for employment an individual, in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive an individual of employment opportunities, or would limit such employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect the status as an employee or as an applicant for employment, because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or age forty (40) and over, or because the person is a qualified individual with a disability.

(3) To cause or attempt to cause an employer to discriminate against an individual in violation of this section.

If you are a Kentucky union member and you think you have been discriminated against, it is important to contact a Kentucky employment attorney to discuss your situation. A statute of limitations may exist that would establish a deadline for filing a discrimination lawsuit. The employment attorneys at Miller & Falkner have over eight years of experience in helping union members and other workers with all types of employment issues.


The Kentucky Civil Rights Act

Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 9 settle civil rights, discrimination suit;; Tom Hester Sr.; March 14, 2012

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