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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Fired CIA Worker’s Suit Stymied by State Secrets

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) - A former CIA operations officer with narcolepsy cannot pursue discrimination charges against the agency because his claims violate state secrets privilege, a federal judge ruled.

The plaintiff, under the pseudonym Jacob Abilt, claims he divulged his disability to the CIA upon employment when he was hired by the agency in 2008.

"The parties agreed that as an accommodation of Plaintiff's disability he could take brief naps at his desk, provided that he make-up the time either by foregoing a lunch break and/or working beyond his scheduled tour of duty," the complaint says.

But between 2009 and 2011, Abilt says, CIA supervisors began harassing him for doing just that. Abilt also claims that as a black man, he was subject to different terms of employment than white coworkers.

Abilt filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Office, and he says thereafter the agency retaliated by requiring him to weekly performance reports, review meetings and even required him to submit a Fitness for Duty Evaluation.

"Plaintiff's supervisors used the weekly meetings as a forum to harass him about his disability, repeated questioned control of his narcolepsy and demanded that he 'try not to fall asleep at his desk,'" the complaint says.

By 2011, Abilt claims, his work environment had become so abusive that he sought to be transferred to another department.

He says he then received an "unsuccessful" performance appraisal from his supervisors, and in Aug. 2011, his employers organized a Personal Evaluation Board to terminate his employment. He says at the same time his supervisors also terminated his computer accounts "thereby impairing his ability to defend himself properly."

U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee upheld the CIA's motion to dismiss Abilt's claims based on invocation of state secrets privilege.

According to the ruling, the CIA invoked the state secrets privilege because Abilt's case would expose classified information about the National Clandestine Service, a branch of the CIA which oversees foreign and counter intelligence affairs within the agency.

In addition to the identities of CIA officers, the agency had argued that intelligence operations, locations of covert CIA facilities and operational tradecraft secrets were at risk of being exposed in litigation.

Abilt maintained that pseudonyms and protective orders could be used to argue his case without revealing any classified operational information.

But Judge Lee decided that since no material fact could be argued in light of confidentiality concerns, summary judgment must be granted to the defendants.

"The Court recognizes the dangers in allowing discovery to proceed in this action where Defendants contend that the very core of Plaintiff's claims implicate classified information," he wrote. "Therefore, the Court declined to allow any discovery in this action."

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