Senior ICE official takes leave amid allegations of creating ‘frat-house type atmosphere’

Gregory Bull/AP

This story has been updated.

A top Homeland Security Department official has voluntarily placed herself on leave after a lawsuit targeted her for creating a “frat-house type atmosphere” in her office, Fox News reported.

Suzanne Barr, chief of staff at DHS’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau, went on leave after James Hayes, a senior officer at ICE, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, claiming discrimination and retaliation.

Hayes alleged female supervisors played “sexually charged games” intended to “humiliate and intimidate male employees.” He also said he was demoted and sent to a new position in New York in order to make room for a female who “enjoyed a long-standing relationship with” Napolitano.

A spokesman for Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management, told Government Executive that after a party in the suit reached out to his office, the subcommittee began “examining the allegations that are directly related to management failures across the board at DHS.”

Hayes’ lawyer, Morris Fischer, told Fox he expected a bipartisan investigation. "Although this is a private lawsuit, this is a public concern," Fischer said.

ICE Public Affairs Director Brian P. Hale told Fox his agency would “respond directly and strongly to this lawsuit in court as is appropriate.”

Hale added DHS’ inspector general and Professional Responsibility offices are reviewing the case.

The lawsuit comes after recent reports that the number of alleged reprisal and harassment cases at Homeland Security has doubled since Napolitano became the department’s head.

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