Posted: 2:21 pm PT
In August 2016, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security and Director of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Bill Miller sent a message on sexual harassment to bureau employees. We published the entire message here, Below is an excerpt of that 2016 statement:
Diplomatic Security takes sexual harassment extremely seriously – not only as an issue in the State Department, but also especially within our Bureau.
In our response to questions from Diplopundit on this issue July 27, we noted that we find unacceptable any behavior that threatens people’s well-being in the workplace, or in any way diminishes someone’s professional capacity.
Sexual harassment is an attack on the values this organization seeks to protect every day. It compromises our charge to protect the workplace rights and ensure a safe environment for all Department employees.
As a law enforcement organization, we must hold ourselves to the highest standards of ethical conduct. As the leader of this organization, I hold every employee accountable to that standard and will not accept any less of them.
Sexual harassment and sexual assault are serious issues that affect both men and women. We condemn any comment that seeks to trivialize these activities or their impact on victims.
Diplomatic Security personnel are made aware of their responsibilities as law enforcement officers and federal employees from the beginning of their employment with the Department. DS employees receive recurring training on equal employment opportunity guidelines, prohibiting discriminatory practices, harassment in all its forms, and promotion of diversity and inclusiveness throughout their career.
During the Basic Special Agent Course, Basic Regional Security Officer (RSO) and RSO advanced courses, individuals from the DS Victim’s Resource Advocacy Program provide classes on responding to sexual assault.
I am disappointed and disturbed to hear that anyone in our organization would be concerned about being stigmatized for coming forward to report sexual harassment or sexual assault. It is unacceptable that we have employees of any gender who may not feel comfortable reporting such activities.
This week, we received an email from a new Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agent detailing sexual language that female student-agents had to endure during Diplomatic Security’s Basic Special Agent Course (BSAC) training. The writer expressed concern over the “worrisome behavior by senior agents conducting the training” and the apparent tolerance by others witnessing such behavior. The writer also wrote: “One senior female agent advised me that upon receipt of this complaint, DSS Management’s first response will likely be to try to figure out who the “complainer” is . . rather than dealing with the senior agents responsible for damaging the department’s reputation.” Our corespondent suggests that if investigators outside of Diplomatic Security want to look into this, all they need to do is talk to the female agents in BSAC’s 137, 136, and 135.
The report below is what we can share publicly. This writer like our other correspondents in the past, is also wary of retaliation. We’ve referred to Special Agent #1 as SA#1 although we can certainly imagine a more colorful name. Special Agent #2 is also referred below as SA#2.
ALERT! ALERT! ALEEEEERT!
Received via email from a DSS Special Agent
Here is what I witnessed:
1) During protective training, I was assigned to a follow car that was “coached” by [Special Agent #1]. During our time with [SA#1], myself and the other females in the group had to listen to [SA#1] describe in detail how during his time in Baghdad he shaved his “balls” and had problems with them “sticking.” [SA#1] then felt it appropriate to detail a trip to his doctor where he had a consultation about erectile medication. [SA#1] also made repeated derogatory comments about his wife. My memory is a little fuzzy on those comments, but they were along the line of, “the old ball and chain, etc.”
I should mention that one of the female agents present is only 22 years old. So this young agent, in her first real job out of college had to sit (literally right next to [SA#1] in the back seat / physically touching him) and listen to [SA#1] , her supervisor, go on and on about his sticky balls in Baghdad and his erectile disfunction . . .i.e. he was discussing his penis.
2) The protection portion of the training was run by unit chief [Special Agent #2]. I personally was “creeped” out by [SA#2] during the entire training as he would try to flirt with the female students in a very unprofessional manner. [SA#2] really crossed the line, however, when for some reason he decided to ask one of the female students (now an agent) for their phone and proceeded to look through it. [SA#2] found the phone number or a text message in the female student-agent’s phone for one of the male contractors working on our final exercise, and texted “I miss you” to the contractor (from the female student/agent’s phone). The female student/agent was of course mortified as it appeared she was texting “I miss you” to the contractor. Is this appropriate behavior from a Unit Supervisor in the training division?!
[SA#2’s] inappropriate behavior continued when, during a re-test he decided to switch out a male student-agent from the position sitting next to him in the exercise to the above mentioned female student-agent. [SA#2] advised the entire BSAC that he was making the switch so he could have someone to “talk to.” He was supposed to be grading the re-test, but instead decided to use the time to creepily attempt to flirt with the female student-agent.
I am sure the above behavior by [SAs #1 and #2] has been repeated in multiple BSAC’s and I hope the department conducts a thorough investigation. Honestly, however, I am not so optimistic that things will change. I know Diplopundit has documented several such sexual harassment claims in the not so distant past, and yet, the above Supervisory SAs seemed to have no compunction in openly behaving this way in front of the 20 plus student-agents!
Where are the Director and the other senior members of DSS management?!! If they cannot protect/prevent a 21 year female agent from having to listen to Supervisory SAs like [SA#1 and SA#2] while she sits in training, how can DSS Senior Management be trusted to protect that same agent from harassment while she is serving in a high threat post in a 98% male RSO shop?!
The Director came to speak to our BSAC, and within 3 minutes of our “pep” talk he told us that if we had joined DSS to use it as a stepping stone we should “get the hell out.” That is a direct quote. One day on the job, and the Director comes in and says “get the hell out” in a pep talk. I would like to turn that around on the Director. If the senior leadership in DSS cannot prevent Supervisory Agents from “creeping out” all females in a BSAC class. Or prevent female student-agents from having to listen to Supervisory SA’s conducting BSAC training discuss their “shaved balls,” maybe it is time for the Director and others to “get the hell out” and leave the bureau in more capable hands?
The Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Henson v. City of Dundee, 682 F.2d 897, 902, 29 EPD ¶ 32,993 (11th Cir. 1982) notes the following:
Sexual harassment which creates a hostile or offensive environment for members of one sex is every bit the arbitrary barrier to sexual equality at the workplace that racial harassment is to racial equality. Surely, a requirement that a man or woman run a gauntlet of sexual abuse in return for the privilege of being allowed to work and made a living can be as demeaning and disconcerting as the harshest of racial epithets.
Female agents should not have to bear and tolerate this kind of language and offensive behavior for the privilege of being allowed to work at Diplomatic Security.
Why would anyone think this is appropriate, acceptable behavior?
And when this is done by individuals in supervisory ranks during training, how do you expect new employees to step up and report this to these same supervisors? The same supervisors, by the way, who can pass/fail employees during basic training. The same supervisors, by the way, who ought to be modeling the highest standards of ethical and professional conduct for agents-in-training.
While the EEOC policy guidance on sexual harassment notes that “sexual flirtation or innuendo, even vulgar language that is trivial or merely annoying, would probably not establish a hostile environment,” it also talks about the pervasiveness and pattern of behavior.
Putting aside our previous reports on harassment at Diplomatic Security for a moment — if we’re talking about three classes to start with here, what is that if not a pattern? And if this behavior was witnessed and tolerated by people and contractors who should know better, then Diplomatic Security has a systemic problem that no broadcast message from bureau officials can fix.
The Supreme Court said in Vinson that for sexual harassment to violate Title VII, it must be “sufficiently severe or pervasive ‘to alter the conditions of [the victim’s] employment and create an abusive working environment.'” 106 S. Ct. at 2406 (quoting Henson v. City of Dundee, 682 F.2d at 904. Since “hostile environment’ harassment takes a variety of forms, many factors may affect this determination, including: (1) whether the conduct was verbal or physical, or both; (2) how frequently it was repeated; (3) whether the conduct was hostile and patently offensive; (4) whether the alleged harasser was a co-worker or a supervisor; (5) whether the others joined in perpetrating the harassment; and (6) whether the harassment was directed at more than one individual.
In determining whether unwelcome sexual conduct rises to the level of a “hostile environment” in violation of Title VII, the central inquiry is whether the conduct “unreasonably interfer[es] with an individual’s work performance” or creates “an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.” 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11(a)(3). Thus, sexual flirtation or innuendo, even vulgar language that is trivial or merely annoying, would probably not establish a hostile environment.
Preventive actions per EEOC‘S Guidelines encourage employers to: “take all steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring, such as affirmatively raising the subject, expressing strong disapproval, developing appropriate sanctions, informing employees of their right to raise and how to raise the issue of harassment under Title VII, and developing methods to sensitize all concerned.”
Also 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11(f): An effective preventive program should include an explicit policy against sexual harassment that is clearly and regularly communicated to employees and effectively implemented. The employer should affirmatively raise the subject with all supervisory and non- supervisory employees, express strong disapproval, and explain the sanctions for harassment. The employer should also have a procedure for resolving sexual harassment complaints. The procedure should be designed to “encourage victims of harassment to come forward” and should not require a victim to complain first to the offending supervisor. See Vinson, 106 S. Ct. at 2408. It should ensure confidentiality as much as possible and provide effective remedies, including protection of victims and witnesses against retaliation.
All well and good, but in the real world we have these: Chien v. Kerry: DS Agent Files Suit For Race/Sex Discrimination, Hostile Work Environment, and Retaliation; Inbox: Female Diplomatic Security Agent Pens a Note on Sexual Harassment and Career Suicide; Another Concerned DS Agent Pens Response to Diplomatic Security’s Broadcast Message on Sexual Harassment.
The State Department’s sexual harassment policy is memorialized here.
Since you’re visiting us —
We have been a reader-supported blog since 2014. We want to keep this blog as open as possible and that’s the reason we don’t have a subscription fee. You know best whether our work is of value to you or not. If it is, and if your circumstances allow it, we could use your help to carry on for another year: Help Diplopundit Get to Year 10 ⚡️