A scandal in the Department of Homeland Security is threatening to embarrass the Obama administration as a longtime aide to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is being accused of making sexually inappropriate comments and invitations to several of her male subordinates.
At least three male employees at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office have filed complaints against Suzanne Barr, the agency’s chief of staff, alleging she has repeatedly engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior, according to court records and a letter describing the claims submitted to a congressional oversight committee.
A senior ICE agent filed a lawsuit in May alleging sexual discrimination and retaliation against Barr, who is on leave while the allegations are being investigated, according to a spokesman for the agency.
The Associated Press story recounts the accusations against Barr:
Barr is accused of telling a male subordinate he was “sexy” during an office party and asking a personal question about his anatomy. She is separately accused of offering to perform a sex act with a male subordinate while on business travel in Bogota, Colombia. She is also accused of calling a male subordinate from her hotel room and offering to perform a sex act. The names of two of the employees were censored in affidavits reviewed by the AP.
Barr is a political appointee who was one of the first appointments Napolitano made when she took over the department in 2009. Barr had never had any complaints against her before. A 1995 graduate of University of Arizona, Barr first began working for Napolitano in 2004 when Napolitano was governor of Arizona. Before that, she worked for Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl.
The entire matter broke out into the open when New York’s most senior ICE agent, James T. Hayes Jr., filed a sexual discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. Hayes described a “frat house” atmosphere at ICE that he said was designed to humiliate male employees under Barr’s leadership. Hayes, who filed the complaint in May, is seeking more than $4 million. His suit said it was for money he believes he is owed for relocation expenses and financial losses associated with his transfer as well as the full salary and benefits he would have earned until he was eligible to retire.
Hayes’ lawyer, Morris Fischer of Silver Spring, Md., has declined to comment.
Two other employees filed complaints against Barr after Hayes filed his lawsuit.
Barr first went on leave after the New York Post reported a story on Hayes’ complaint earlier this month. The additional employees came forward with their allegations around the same time.