EEOC Retaliation Claims and Security Clearances

Plaintiff, the FBI’s Legal Attaché in Saudi Arabia, filed race and national origin-based discrimination charges against his supervisors with the  United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission(“EEOC”). After the charges were filed, one of Plaintiff’s supervisors referred him for a security investigation, maintaining that his connection with Saudi officials had put Plaintiff “inappropriately under the influence of his Saudi counterparts.”  An investigation concluded that the claims underlying his supervisor’s referral were baseless. Plaintiff filed suit under Title VII, claiming that the security referral was made in retaliation for his EEOC complaint. The government filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the retaliation claim was non-justiciable under Department of Navy v. Egan, 484 U.S. 518 (1988), which held that “employment actions based on denial of security clearance are not subject to judicial review, including under Title VII.”

In its initial decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that precedent “shields from review only those security decisions made by the FBI’s Security Division” and “not the actions of thousands of other FBI employees…like [Plaintiff].” The Court of Appeals remanded due to erroneous jury instructions, and particularly permitted the Title VII action against Planitff’s supervisors to go forward to the degree that the referral was premised on factually incorrect or misrepresentative information.

Upon rehearing, the Court of Appeals again held that Egan applies only to employees who routinely handle security clearances. In response to the government’s argument that allowing a Title VII action would end security reports that executive employees are required to make under Executive Order 12,968, the Court of Appeals narrowed its prior decision. The Court of Appeals held that Title VII allegations based on “knowingly false” information could advance consistent with Egan. Since some of the claims underlying the supervisor’s referral were false, the Court of Appeals remanded so that the district court could determine whether adequate evidence of knowingly false information existed to allow Plaintiff’s claims to go before a jury.

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