The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

EEOC Office of Legal Counsel staff members wrote the following informal discussion letter in response to an inquiry from a member of the public. This letter is intended to provide an informal discussion of the noted issue and does not constitute an official opinion of the Commission.

Jurisdiction: Federal Employee Unions

May 17, 2005

Dear Mr. ,

This correspondence responds to the concerns raised in your March 29, 2005 letter to [officials of a federal employee union], which you forwarded to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You state that [the union] violated collective bargaining agreement provisions when several union officials discriminated against you on the basis of race, and request a hearing pursuant to an [union] internal procedure. The EEOC cannot comment on your rights under [the union's] collective bargaining agreement, but we are happy to provide general information about the application of employment discrimination laws to labor unions.

The EEOC enforces, among other laws, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (29 U.S.C. § 2000e et. seq.), which protects employees, former employees, and applicants from employment discrimination by employers and “labor organizations” based on race, color, sex, national origin, or religion. For example, covered labor organizations may not refuse to file grievances on behalf of members or harass members because of their race, color, sex, national origin, or religion.

Not all labor unions are “labor organizations” covered by Title VII, and courts are split on the question of whether federal unions are covered. The EEOC and the 4th and 8th Circuit Courts of Appeals conclude that federal unions are covered, and therefore can be sued under Title VII, while the 5th Circuit and some district courts disagree. See EEOC Compliance Manual, Threshold Issues, § III B 1 c (; Jones v. American Postal Workers Union, 192 F.3d 417 (4th Cir. 1999) (federal union can be liable under ADA); and Jennings v. American Postal Workers Union, 672 F.2d 712 (8th Cir. 1982).

If you choose to pursue a claim against the union, the complaint cannot be brought within the federal EEO process, which covers only complaints against federal agencies. Instead, you must contact the following EEOC Office if you wish to file a charge:

EEOC Newark Area Office
1 Newark Center, 21st Floor
Newark, NJ 07102-5233

Phone: 973-645-6383

I hope this information is helpful to you. Please note, however, that this letter does not constitute an official opinion of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It takes no position regarding whether the actions you contend [the union] has taken against you constitute illegal discrimination; it merely provides a general discussion of when labor unions may be covered under Title VII.


Raymond L. Peeler
Senior Attorney Advisor
Title VII/ADEA/EPA Division

This page was last modified on April 27, 2007.

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