A woman who claims in a lawsuit that the FBI allowed sexual harassment to thrive at its training academy in Quantico, Virginia, asked a federal judge Monday to block the bureau from allegedly retaliating against her and a co-worker.
Attorneys for Erika Welsey, an analyst in the FBI’s Phoenix office, said the agency revoked accommodations it had made for her disability after she joined the class-action lawsuit earlier this year.
Ms. Welsey is among 16 current and former female FBI agents who sued the agency for what they say is gender discrimination, a hostile work environment and sexual harassment at the Quantico base.
Since the lawsuit, Ms. Welsey was barred from teleworking and using an ergonomic workstation; transferred to a new supervisor; and had her workload vastly reduced, her lawyers said.
“These were not perks. She was authorized to have these have reasonable accommodations because of her disability,” said Christine Webber, one of her attorneys. “The FBI in none of its pleadings have disputed she is a disabled employee who requires reasonable accommodations.”
Ms. Webber, who appeared in a Washington, D.C. federal court, did not identify the disability.
Attorneys for Ms. Welsey also charged that supervisors in the Phoenix office retaliated against a co-worker whom they say was a witness to the alleged reprisals.
The co-worker, Mary Martinez, was also alleged to have work taken away from her because of her involvement in the initial lawsuit.
Ms. Webber urged U.S. District Judge Kentanji B. Jackson to issue an injunction blocking further retribution because the FBI’s actions could scare off potential witnesses and plaintiffs in the gender discrimination suit.
Judge Jackson was skeptical of the plaintiff’s arguments. She questioned how she could issue a nationwide injunction based on the actions of a few individuals in Phoenix.
“How do we get from people in the Phoenix office to telling the entire FBI to follow the law?” she asked.
Martin Tomlinson, an attorney representing the FBI and Justice Department, argued that Ms. Wesley lost her disability accommodations because her security clearance was suspended, which limited how the bureau could use her skills.
He insisted the security clearance was not removed in retaliation but rather for alleged unauthorized activity on her FBI computer. The decision to suspend the security clearance was not made by the FBI supervisors in Phoenix.
“The class lawsuit has nothing to do with the field office, but how the training is run at the FBI academy,” Mr. Tomlinson said. “Maybe if they were alleging someone high up at the FBI HQ was doing this, they would have an argument.”
Mr. Tomlinson argued that federal courts do not have jurisdiction over whether FBI employees can regain their security clearances.
Judge Jackson said it was “a little strange” that Ms. Wesley’s security clearance was revoked so quickly after she joined the lawsuit.
“One really good way to prevent her from moving forward with the preliminary injunction is to yank her security question,” she said. “That determination cannot be reviewed.”
Mr. Tomlinson also said the plaintiffs have not proven Ms. Wesley’s case has scared off other potential witnesses in the case.
“Where is the evidence of a chilling effect?” he asked.
The judge also questioned whether she had authority over Ms. Martinez’s claims because she is not a party to the original lawsuit.
“I don’t understand how I have jurisdiction or anything with respect to her,” she said. “She hasn’t been a witness in this case. It’s unclear if she is before the court in any meaningful way yet.”
Judge Jackson did not give a time frame for when she expected to make a decision.
The initial lawsuit filed by Ms. Wesley and others in May depicts the FBI training academy as a frat-house environment rampant with sexual harassment.
“The FBI has intentionally allowed the Good Old Boy Network to flourish unrestrained at the FBI Academy,” they wrote in the lawsuit, filed in Washington, D.C.
Recruits’ complaints ranged from one saying she was sexually harassed and mocked for her disability while others claiming they were constantly badgered for sex by the male recruits.
One recruit alleged in the lawsuit two men pressured her for sex in the back of a car, while others encouraged her to sneak off into an empty room for sex. A 55-year-old agent slipped her his number while another agent texted her 15 times a day until she told him to stop, according to the lawsuit.
The FBI has declined to comment on the lawsuit beyond saying they were committed to a working environment where employees are “valued and respected.”
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.