A discrimination and retaliation lawsuit has embroiled the upper reaches of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, contributing to what the New York Times calls “a sense of turmoil in a bureaucracy that has been suffering major labor conflicts between senior officials and employees.” The lawsuit by James Hayes, a top federal immigration official in New York, alleges that he was shunted out of a high-level position in favor of a less-qualified woman because he was a man. Hayes accuses chief of staff Suzanne Barr, now on paid leave as misconduct allegations are being investigated, of “sexually offensive behavior” that contributed to a discriminatory work environment for male employees. Hayes says Barr “created a frat house-type atmosphere that is targeted to humiliate and intimidate male employees.”
The union that organizes more than 7,000 enforcement agents, the National ICE Council, has been openly critical of the leadership of the agency's director, John Morton, and resistant to policy changes he has introduced. The head of the union has accused Morton, who was appointed in 2009, of failing to consult with agents in the field about the effect of the new policies. Last week the union posted a petition on its Web site asking for public support for ICE officers who are “upholding the law.” As of Tuesday morning it had more than 55,000 signatures.