Agent plans to quit FBI over sexual harassment Complaints futile, woman charges

October 11, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- A decorated FBI agent, who says her superiors refused to take seriously her complaints of sexual harassment, is planning a highly unusual protest today: turning in her badge.

The agent, Suzane Doucette, said in a recent interview that her career at the FBI had come to a standstill after she filed complaints against the bureau, contending she was sexually assaulted in 1988 by a supervisor.

Ms. Doucette, who is on administrative leave, describes her departure from the agency not as a resignation, but as a forced dismissal.

She said that after she filed the complaint she was denied entrance to management programs and told to improve her relations with her male co-workers.

"I'm very disappointed," said Ms. Doucette, 39, who has spent nine years as an agent. "Until very recently, I thought the bureau would be reasonable about this and it would all go away because I love my job and I'm good at it and I've worked very hard at being an FBI agent."

Privately, some FBI officials say Ms. Doucette's complaints of being mistreated by her superiors are well founded. Publicly, Charles Mandigo, an FBI spokesman, said: "We consider it tragic when we lose any employee. It should not overshadow all the progress the organization has made in the last few years."

In a larger sense, Ms. Doucette's case puts an embarrassing spotlight on a troubling issue at a law-enforcement agency that prides itself on professionalism, but refused to hire women as agents until after J. Edgar Hoover's death in 1972.

The lingering effects are apparent: The highest-ranking woman at the FBI is the agent in charge of the field office in Anchorage, Alaska, the FBI's smallest.

Still, the bureau has hired women in increasing numbers in recent years. Employment records show that of a total of 10,300 agents, about 11 percent, or more than 1,200, are women.

Over the years, FBI managers have ordered studies and formed committees to examine issues affecting female agents, but the bureau has seldom made public the findings, and many women remain skeptical about the depth of the agency's commitment to the future of women at the FBI.

Earlier in the year, a group of female agents calling itself Special Agent Women Interested in Fair Treatment, or SWIFT, began sending agents a newsletter about issues affecting female agents.

But the group's leaders do not publicly identify themselves, reflecting the reluctance of female agents to openly confront sex discrimination.

As a result, Ms. Doucette's openness in discussing her experience is unusual. She first talked about her complaints when she testified at a congressional hearing early this year and later detailed her accusations in a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Arizona, accusing the FBI of harassment. No trial date has been set for the suit.

When she was recruited into the FBI in 1984, Ms. Doucette said, she felt little apprehension about entering an occupation pTC traditionally dominated by men. Her first assignment was to the bureau's office in Sacramento, Calif., where her career seemed ideal.

She worked on bank robberies, kidnappings and drug cases.

In one stroke, she said, she cut through any potential resistance from her male colleagues after she rappelled out of a helicopter ++ with co-workers on a special weapons and tactics team. "From that day on I never had any problems," she said.

She received cash awards from the FBI for her investigative work and received an award from the military for her work on a counter-intelligence case.

From California she moved to New York in 1986 with her husband, who is also an FBI agent. She said she got along well with her superiors in New York, "who gave her every opportunity to succeed," including assignments to several classified operations. But she began hearing of harassment.

In one case, she said, male agents used video equipment intended for undercover surveillance to secretly take pictures of a female agent. Ms. Doucette said many female agents tolerate such unwelcome treatment.

"The only way you can be promoted is if you don't complain and you just take it," she said.

In 1988, she was reassigned to Arizona, while her husband remained in New York, before he too was shortly transferred to the state in accordance with FBI policies to transfer married agents together.

In her lawsuit, she asserts that during an undercover assignment in Arizona in December 1988, a supervisor assaulted her. "He grabbed me from behind and had me in a choke hold," she says, saying he promised her promotions if she consented to sex. She says she was able to break free from the supervisor.

Ms. Doucette says she was later warned by another supervisor against filing a formal complaint against her alleged attacker. She says a male colleague told her that if she pursued the complaint, it could cost her her job.

Shortly after the incident, she applied to the FBI's career development program, a stepping stone to management, but was rejected. She says her male supervisors told her that she might be accepted in the program in the future and that for now she should try to improve her relations with her male co-workers. "Let the guys get to know you," she says she was told.

But for Ms. Doucette, the working environment never improved, she says, while men who seemed insensitive to women prospered.

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