Fowlkes v. Ironworkers Local 40, Danny Doyle, Kevin O’Rourke (USA)

Cole Fowlkes is a journeyman ironworker and a member of Local 40. As a journeyman ironworker, Fowlkes would (in his words) detonate “caps/blow cement from steel/use torch to cut/burn steel[,] preparing it for the welder.”  Although Fowlkes was born biologically female, he now self-identifies as a man, preferring to be called “Cole” and to be referred to in the masculine. Fowlkes alleged that his union, Ironworkers Local 40 (the “Local”), and two of its business agents, Danny Doyle and Kevin O’Rourke (the Local, Doyle, and O’Rourke, together, “defendants”), discriminated against him on the basis of sex and retaliated against him for filing an earlier action against them. The discrimination and retaliation alleged by Fowlkes primarily consisted of refusing to refer Fowlkes for work through the Local’s hiring hall.

The District Court construed Fowlkes’s complaint as stating federal claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq., and related state- and city-law claims. Invoking its authority pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) to screen an in forma pauperis complaint at any time, the District Court, acting on its own, held that Fowlkes’s failure to exhaust administrative remedies for his Title VII claims deprived the court of subject matter jurisdiction over those claims. On the understanding that no federal claim remained after the Title VII claims’ dismissal, the District Court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the related state- and city-law claims, and entered a judgment dismissing Fowlkes’s complaint in full.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed. It concluded that the District Court erred in its determination that Fowlkes’s failure to exhaust administrative remedies deprived it of subject matter jurisdiction over his Title VII claims. In addition, the court concluded that Fowlkes stated a federal claim under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 151, et seq., for the Local’s breach of its duty of fair representation. Accordingly, the court vacated the judgment dismissing Fowlkes’s amended complaint and remanded the lawsuit to the District Court. On remand, the federal appellate court directed the District Court to: (1) consider whether any equitable defenses excuse Fowlkes’s failure to exhaust his administrative remedies for his Title VII claims; (2) conduct further proceedings on Fowlkes’s duty of fair representation claim; and (3) reevaluate whether to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Fowlkes’s pendent state- and city-law claims and conduct any further proceedings on those claims as it determines may be warranted.

We fully support this decision and hope Fowlkes prevails.

Fowlkes v. Ironworkers Local 40, Danny Doyle, Kevin O’Rourke

2 thoughts on “Fowlkes v. Ironworkers Local 40, Danny Doyle, Kevin O’Rourke (USA)

  1. “born biologically female, he now self-identifies as a man, preferring to be called “Cole” and to be referred to in the masculine.”

    As I understand it, Title VII doesn’t include gender identity. Historically, Title VII clearly meant biological sex not gender identity. This is not sex discrimination under Title VII. What this person is claiming is gender identity. If she were just a non-traditional woman who chose to work in a traditionally male field, then it would be sex discrimination.

    Why is sex under Title VII the only protected category of persons that can mean both physical characteristics/biology and personal self identification?
    Can race under Title VII mean both physical characteristics that people are born with and ancestry as well as personal self identification?

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