The Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Judiciary Committee are calling on the Justice Department’s internal watchdog to investigate the FBI’s training and selection processes after women who went through the bureau’s academy alleged in a lawsuit they were discriminated against by instructors.
The committee’s chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and ranking Republican, Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.), in a letter to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, said that the women’s allegations were “disturbing” and — despite the pending litigation — “require an investigation into the FBI’s training and selection practices for new agents.”
“If true, such conduct cannot be tolerated,” the lawmakers wrote. “The selection process employed by the FBI must be free from discrimination on the basis of factors such as gender and race, and individuals hired to these important positions should reflect the diversity of our country.”
Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), the chair of the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security, and John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.), that panel’s ranking Republican, also joined the letter.
A spokesman for Horowitz declined to comment.
Last month, 16 women who were once recruits going through the FBI’s training academy alleged in a lawsuit that they had been sexually harassed and subjected to outdated gender stereotypes as they tried to become FBI agents or intelligence analysts. The women were discharged, though seven still work at the bureau in other roles. Five are identified by name; the others’ identities are shielded.
“Because of the FBI’s history of tolerating the Good Old Boy Network, the subjective evaluations by these male instructors result in female trainees being written up and subsequently dismissed at a rate significantly and disproportionately higher than their male counterparts,” the lawsuit alleges.
It says, too, that female trainees often drew formal admonishments for “lacking integrity and/or emotional maturity” when they defended actions they had taken, while their male counterparts who did the same were praised for having “command presence.”
One woman alleged in the suit that instructors and counselors made frequent inappropriate comments, including about women needing to take birth control to manage their moods. She said one of her counselors falsely claimed that she had become pregnant during an extramarital affair.
Another woman alleged that instructors and counselors regularly told her she needed to smile more. That woman singled out a supervisory special agent who she said called the only African American female trainee with braids in her class “spaghetti head” and asserted that female informants were not reliable, because they were “too emotional.”
The lawsuit alleges that one of the trainees, Lauren Rose, emailed then-FBI Director James B. Comey in 2015 to complain about discrimination at the academy and that in responding, Comey denied it was occurring, suggesting “she use her ‘pain’ to reflect on her strengths and weaknesses,” the lawsuit alleges.
An attorney for Comey did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rose’s initial complaint also singled out Mark Morgan, the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement who is expected to take over as the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Rose alleged that Morgan, as an FBI deputy assistant director, took issue with her “attitude,” and the lawsuit alleges he “facilitated and/or approved the exclusive dismissal of female new agent trainees for tactical suitability during fiscal year 2015.”
An ICE spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The FBI said in a statement: “While we are unable to comment on litigation, the FBI is committed to fostering a work environment where all of our employees are valued and respected. Diversity is one of our core values, and to effectively accomplish our mission of protecting the American people we need people of different genders, backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.”
The bureau noted that the acceptance rate for special-agent applicants — which covers those who apply and make it through the process — is estimated to be 6 percent and that female special-agent applications made up 36 percent of the total pool in fiscal 2019, above the bureau’s target of 33 percent.
A bipartisan request from the leaders of the House Judiciary Committee is likely to carry significant weight in persuading Horowitz to begin an investigation. The inspector general has previously investigated gender equity in federal law enforcement, releasing a report last year that revealed substantial differences in how men and women were employed at the nation’s premier agencies.
In 2016, Horowitz found, women made up just 16 percent of criminal investigators employed at the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, even though they accounted for 57 percent of the rest of the agencies’ workforce. Criminal investigators are generally viewed as the most influential employees at the agencies and move up the ranks most quickly.