A "Special Agent" Files Suit

I'm not a fan of the Justice Department, so I ought to be rooting for Kurt Siuzdak, a 17-year veteran of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who has filed suit against Attorney General Eric Holder. Instead, I'm wondering just what he is hoping to accomplish. My hunch is that he is angling for a job as commentator on Fox News, or a seat in some red state congressional district. From a distance, his suit seems not so much misguided, as sad, even tragic.

Siuzdak has filed suit claiming that he has been retaliated against by the FBI, in particular a former supervisor named Kimberly Mertz, because of his opposition to the age, gender and disability discrimination to which he was subject in the New Haven office. In 30 some pages of his complaint, he summarizes a career that seemed promising, but never really took off.

Employment litigation shares with divorce the profound bitterness that comes of promises unfulfilled. We expect love and devotion in marriage, and even happiness, until death do us part. From our employer, we expect loyalty and recognition of our talents. When a partner betrays us in divorce, or an employer refuses to recognize our worth, trust dissolves, and rage emerges. Suizdak, it appears, is an angry man.

The complaint tells us he is a lawyer; he's been trained in Arabic—at the FBI's expense; he's had impressive postings overseas, having serviced as assistant legal attache in Baghdad; he twice extended his tour of duty in the Iraqi theater of war; he was a first responder at the World Trade Center, suffering lung injury as a result of his presence at the scene of the terrorist attack; he helped restore order in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Siuzdak bleeds red, white and blue, all right.

But what's this about retaliation for his opposition to age, gender and disability discrimination? Frankly, it smells like a set up by a guy who just can't accept the fact that, in a paramilitary organization with a pyramidal hierarchy, his elevator stalled far from the top floor.

Yes, he's over the age of 40, a necessary prerequisite for a claim of age discrimination. Yes, he's apparently disabled, too, bringing to the FBI a 30 percent disability rating incident to military service—a fact that did not prevent him from completing the field course for recruits at the FBI Academy. And, yes, he's a male. But for the life of me, I don't see how his age, gender or disability kept him from getting ahead. Other men over the age of 40 get promoted; and I doubt that service-related injuries have prevented other agents from leap-frogging their way to bigger and better things.

Retaliation claims are the weak sister of employment litigation. If you complain about discrimination, and then fail on the merits, it is always easy thereafter to claim that the next time you don't get what you want, your boss was picking on you for your earlier claim. Frankly, I've never understood just how people can bring administrative complaints against their employer, remain on the job, and then expect to live without perpetually wondering whether you were denied a chance to take an exotic seminar trip because of the complaint you filed, and lost.

Two classes of employees seem to regard employment litigation as merciless blood sport: public school teachers and law enforcement officers. I've never understood why these public servants are so hard on one another. Perhaps it is because the turf over which they fight is largely symbolic – no one ever got rich working as a teacher, or as a cop, or, for that matter, as a "Special Agent."

Suizdak's suit is well-timed, however. A parting shot at a parting attorney general. More finger-pointing at a federal agency just at the time there is great political gain to be had going public with accusations. But before he dons a microphone at Fox News, Suizdak needs a better scriptwriter. At 30-plus pages, his complaint inspires nothing so much as a sense of tedium. This is no Benghazi.

There's no drama in this suit, just an overarching sense of pettiness. Whether that is the fault of Suizdak or of his supervisor is unlikely to matter much in the end. I predict a quiet death on summary judgment. Employers, after all, get to use their judgment in making decisions that disappoint their employees, even the most special of special agents.



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