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Tuesday, July 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Customs Agent Cleared|in Snafu With Gay Couple

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The Ninth Circuit on Wednesday cleared a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent of liability after a gay administrative law judge sued him three years ago, claiming the agent discriminated against him and his husband.

In May 2013, administrative law judge William Kocol and architect Timothy Gajewski filed a lawsuit against the several unnamed officers and the U.S. government claiming a civil rights violation. They demanded $3 million in damages.

In their federal complaint, they said border agent Frank Burnett had singled them out at Los Angeles International Airport on return from a trip to Mexico because they were a same-sex couple.

Burnett asked to see their marriage certificate and refused to allow them to enter the country, the couple said. They claimed they were surrounded by five agents and that Kocol was detained in a room.

They said the agents treated them roughly and only gave them their passports after Kocol explained that he was federal judge at the National Labor Relations Board.

In an unpublished memorandum, a Ninth Circuit panel ruled that U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins had properly thrown out the claim that Burnett had violated the couple's constitutional rights.

"The district court properly dismissed the first cause of action on the basis of qualified immunity because plaintiffs failed to allege that defendant Burnett violated a constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the conduct in question," the 4-page memorandum states.

Circuit Judges Edward Leavy, Susan Graber and Morgan Christen also affirmed the remainder of Collins' decision, finding the couple had not exhausted their administrative remedies against the United States by filing the required claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

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