ICE Officials Target of Sexual Harassment, Gender Discrimination Lawsuits
Accusations of sexual harassment and anti-male bias at the highest levels of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bureau resulted in a shakeup at the agency and two federal lawsuits, one of which settled for $175,000.
On September 1, 2012, Suzanne Barr, a longtime aide to Janet Napolitano when she was governor of Arizona, resigned her position as chief of staff to ICE Director John Morton after a coworker alleged in a lawsuit that Barr had created a sexually-charged “frat house” workplace environment – accusations that Barr dismissed as “unfounded and without any merit” and “designed to destroy my reputation.”
“I feel it is incumbent upon me to take every step necessary to prevent further harm to the agency and to prevent this from further distracting from our critical work,” Barr said in her resignation letter. She had been on voluntary leave since James T. Hayes, Jr., the former director of ICE’s detention and deportation operations in Washington, D.C., filed suit in May 2012.
Hayes’ lawsuit claimed that Barr told a male subordinate at an office party that he was “sexy” and asked about the length of his penis. Soon after she took the chief-of-staff position in 2009, Barr supposedly offered to perform oral sex on a male employee during a business trip in Bogota, Colombia, and later phoned a male subordinate from her hotel room and again offered to perform oral sex.
Hayes also accused Napolitano, who served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security during President Obama’s first term in office, of pushing him out of his job to bring in Dora B. Schriro, the former director of Arizona’s state prison system. Schriro later left ICE and currently serves as commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.
Hayes alleged that Schriro was less qualified than him for a job as Napolitano’s special advisor on immigrant-removal procedures, but Schriro was given the position because she “enjoyed a longstanding relationship” with Napolitano.
The lawsuit preceded another complaint filed against Napolitano in July 2012 by ICE staffer Jason Mount, who claimed he was denied 43 promotions because he’s a white male. Mount, who was promoted to branch chief at ICE headquarters in Washington in October 2009 before filing a gender discrimination complaint a year later, stated he was eventually forced to commit “career suicide” by taking an ICE position in Boston that he said was a “downgrade” in rank and pay.
A federal official told the New York Post that those allegations “do not align with the fact that Mr. Hayes routinely held high-ranking assignments, including his current position as special agent in charge of ICE’s second-largest field office.”
As the salacious details in Hayes’ and Mount’s lawsuits were being reported, Napolitano told the Arizona Republic in August 2012 that she was considering going back to Arizona, where she had served as the state’s attorney general and governor.
Hayes’ lawsuit settled in November 2012 for $175,000, and Napolitano subsequently left her post as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in 2013. She currently serves as president of the University of California.
The district court in Mount’s employment discrimination lawsuit issued a ruling on April 10, 2014 dismissing several of his claims because “the applicable legal standards regarding administrative exhaustion were not satisfied.” Another claim was allowed to proceed, and the case remains pending. See: Mount v. Johnson, U.S.D.C. (D. D.C.), Case No. 1:12-cv-01276-KBJ.
Sources: Phoenix New Times, Chicago Tribune, New York Post, FOX News, www.politico.com, www.abcnews.go.com, Associated Press
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Related legal case
Mount v. Johnson,
|U.S.D.C. (D. D.C.), Case No. 1:12-cv-01276-KBJ