Former FBI Worker Sues, Claiming She Was Harassed For Being Attractive
Over the last few years, several women have sued their employers, claiming that they were treated unfairly because of their above-average looks. The public usually has a good laugh at their expense, and the lawsuits don't have a great record of success. But that hasn't deterred an FBI employee and professional singer, who is now suing the Department of Justice, claiming her co-workers harassed and discriminated against her because they were "jealous of her appearance and Latin singing career."
Erika Bonilla, 38, began working at the FBI field office in Albuquerque, N.M. a decade ago, reports ABC News, and in 2007 she was promoted to administrative specialist, doing recruitment, applicant testing, and human resources work, according to her lawsuit.
She is also a professional Latin music singer, with a record deal for a second album, and has performed at several FBI functions.
Her suit claims that other employees spread rumors that she only got her promotion because she's easy on the eyes. One co-worker "made comments about how they need to 'get rid of Erika,'" and another spread gossip that she had sexual relations with a higher-up, the lawsuit claims. They also refused to train her and rummaged through her personal belongings.
Bonilla claims she complained repeatedly to managers. A subsequent investigation corroborated some of her claims, according to ABC, but Bonilla complained in her lawsuit that management, while investigating, rudely questioned her about whether she'd slept with an executive.
Then in April 2009, Bonilla claims she was subjected to an investigation about her time and attendance, requiring that she "document every minute of her day for over a year," according to the lawsuit, and that if she did not complete this "nearly impossible feat" she would be suspended. She received a 10-day unpaid suspension that went on her permanent record. Her lawyer Monnica Garcia claims the agency ignored evidence in disciplining Bonilla, and later that year Bonilla filed a complaint of employment discrimination with the FBI's Equal Employment Opportunity Affairs.
The lawsuit alleges that Bonilla's co-workers retaliated against her for doing so, filing multiple anonymous complaints with management about Bonilla's "appearance, time and attendance and work ethic." In April 2010, another anonymous complaint came in that called Bonilla's clothing "offensive."
Bonilla says she also began to get lower performance ratings from her supervisors and eventually was moved to another agency office in California. (She says that she's even received an award for her performance there.)
Garcia contends that Bonilla was targeted for being an attractive Hispanic woman with a music career, who won a promotion. And despite years of stress, which impacted Bonilla's health and gave her high blood pressure, the agency did nothing to stop it. Neither the FBI nor the Department of Justice commenting on the story, citing the ongoing litigation.
Bonilla is seeking unspecified damages for back pay "and other equitable relief."
Several other women have filed sex discrimination lawsuits, accusing co-workers and supervisors of treating them unfairly because of their attractive looks. Last month, Lauren Odes filed a lawsuit against the the lingerie company where she briefly worked, claiming that she was fired for her bustiness and form-fitting outfits. Debrahlee Lorenza filed a lawsuit against Citibank in 2010, alleging that she was fired for her "distracting" body.
The only big difference between these suits and Bonilla's is that Bonilla hasn't hired Gloria Allred as her lawyer.
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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