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EEOC v. Pipefitters Ass'n Local Union 597 - 334 F.3d 656 (7th Cir. 2003)


Unions do not have an affirmative duty to prevent racial harassment or other forms of unlawful discrimination in the workplace.


On behalf of an employee, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed an action against both an employer and the Pipefitters Ass'n Local Union 597 (Union) under Title VII and 42 U.S.C.S. § 1981. It alleged that the Union and the employer were permitting a hostile work environment. Specifically, the EEOC pointed to racial graffiti that was not removed from a restroom used by the employee and other African-American workers. The EEOC argued that the Union had the same legal responsibility as the employer. After the district court entered judgment in favor of the EEOC and the employee, the Union sought review.


Did the Union have the same legal responsibility as the employer in preventing unlawful discrimination in the workplace?




In reversing, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit determined that it was the employer's responsibility to eliminate the harassment. The Union did not control the workplace. The only way the Union could have violated Title VII was if it had discriminated in the performance of its duties. The Court noted that the responsibilities were blurred in the case because the employee had complained to a union steward, who was also a company supervisor. However, the Union's inaction did not amount to discrimination. Further, the Union's inaction was not selective. The Union's single act of intervention in removing an offensive drawing did not create an assumption of responsibility.

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