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Female recruits allege discrimination at FBI academy

More than a dozen women who attended the FBI's training academy are suing the law enforcement agency for what they say was a hostile work environment and sexual harassment, according to a new lawsuit.

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David Shortell
CNN — More than a dozen women who attended the FBI's training academy are suing the law enforcement agency for what they say was a hostile work environment and sexual harassment, according to a new lawsuit.

The suit, based on accounts from current and former FBI employees, alleges that women at the FBI's Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia, faced disadvantages and harsher scrutiny as a result of a "good old boy network" at the facility.

Some women also said they were sexually harassed, including through propositions for sex and repeated "inappropriate" text messages.

"Female trainees are subjected to a hostile work environment, pervasive sexual harassment and sexual jokes made by numerous members of Training Division instructors, managers and field counselors, including harassment about pregnancy, false allegations of infidelity, use of birth control, physical appearance, manner of dress, parental status, and refusal to train certain skills because of a female trainee's breast size," the suit says.

"Through passive tolerance, the FBI has intentionally allowed the Good Old Boy Network to flourish unrestrained at the FBI Academy," the suit says.

The training center at Quantico, on a sprawling and wooded campus outside of Washington, DC, holds a storied place at the FBI.

Most new recruits pass through the facility for a 20-week training that includes classroom instruction on counterterrorism investigations and interrogation techniques, as well as tactical scenarios in a small-town mock-up.

For D.A., a staff operations specialist in the FBI's Counterterrorism Division who appears as a plaintiff in the suit identified by her initials, the academy was also a place of embarrassment and targeted criticism.

In one exercise, D.A. was told to be more "aggressive" with her shooting, although she had successfully completed the exercise. In another incident, an instructor questioned D.A.'s recollection of an exercise, telling her that she was "overwhelmed" and "probably didn't remember it correctly," the suit says.

Clare Coetzer, a licensed social worker who attended the training academy in 2018, was dismissed three weeks before graduation and says in the lawsuit that she was given fewer opportunities to succeed than her male counterparts.

After receiving four demerits, Coetzer met with a tactical instructor to ask for feedback on how to improve.

"Ms. Coetzer was told there was nothing she could do to improve. During this same meeting, Ms. Coetzer and her class counselor were both present when the [instructor] told a male classmate with four (4) [demerits] that he would 'be fine' and 'to keep working hard, and not worry about it,' the suit says.

"Only minutes after, the same instructor told Ms. Coetzer that her four (4) [demerits] were 'a lot' and that 'people don't typically graduate with four (4) [demerits],'" the suit says.

In a statement, the FBI said they could not comment on pending litigation but that they are "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 FBI said.

Women made up 36% of all special agent applications so far this fiscal year -- up from 26% the year before, according to FBI statistics.

Thirty-two percent of the class at the main special agent training course in Quantico this year are women, the FBI said.

In the suit, which was filed in Washington, DC, federal court, the women ask a judge to reinstate the plaintiffs into the training academy, and seek damages for emotional distress.

The women also ask the court to order the FBI to conduct a study of the FBI's training evaluation process and require all instructors at the center to undergo sensitivity training.

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