New Mexico Ex-FBI Employee Says Co-Workers Were 'Jealous' of Her, Sues Employer

Erika Bonilla is suing the FBI over discrimination based on gender and race.

June 21, 2012, 10:12 AM

June 21, 2012 -- Erika Bonilla, a professional singer and former FBI employee in New Mexico, is suing the FBI for harassment and discrimination, saying several co-workers were "jealous of her appearance and Latin singing career."

Bonilla, 38, began working at the FBI field office in Albuquerque, N.M., in December 2002. In the summer of 2007, Bonilla was promoted to an Administrative Specialist, "which entailed human resources management, language testing, applicant testing and recruiting matters," according to the lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court in New Mexico.

Bonilla's suit, filed on June 18, names Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice, which oversees the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The suit states she "was targeted, harassed and retaliated against because she is an attractive Hispanic female with a career in Latin music."

Bonilla is a professional Latin music singer, has released an album and signed a recording contract for a second album.

"She has performed at various FBIHQ functions," which the "FBI is well aware of, and allows her to work as a singer," the suit states.

The lawsuit was brought "to prevent [the FBI] from maintaining a policy" of discriminating against Bonilla, who now lives in California. She is requesting unspecified damages, back pay, "and other equitable relief" for discrimination on the basis of race and gender. She says she should be protected from retaliation for protected activity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

A spokesman for the FBI declined to comment and referred ABC News to the Justice Department. Charles Miller, a spokesman for the the Department of Justice declined to comment on ongoing litigation.

"Ms. Bonilla indicated this harassment included maliciously false rumors, disparate treatment and frivolous complaints that caused her anguish and lost pay," said Monnica Garcia, Bonilla's attorney. "This lawsuit was brought because, despite her repeated complaints to management, the agency failed to address the hostile work environment. Ms. Bonilla hopes this lawsuit will not only compensate her for her damages, but also prevent future acts of discrimination and retaliation."

Bonilla claims her co-workers "would not train [her] or work with her in a non-hostile manner, and they also spread malicious gossip in the office" that she "only obtained her position because of her appearance" over another employee.

"After obtaining the new position, [Bonilla] was harassed by a handful of employees in the office, who thought that Support Services Technician (SST) Maria Grossetete should have received the position," the suit states.

According to the lawsuit, one employee "made comments about how they needed to 'get rid of Erika'."

Another co-worker "falsely stated that the reason the position was given to [Bonilla] was because [she] had sexual relations with executive management in the Albuquerque Office," according to the suit.

The FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility initiated an investigation against one co-worker for harassing Bonilla after which the harassment allegations against him were substantiated, the suit states.

But during the investigation, Bonilla "was inappropriately questioned, in an accusatory fashion, whether she had engaged in sexual relations with members of the executive management in exchange for promotion."

"Gossip was spread in the office that [Bonilla] was not paying her taxes on income from singing," she said in the suit. In addition, Bonilla claims employees sifted through her personal belongings including her purse and notebook.

In April 2009, Plaintiff was informed about one complaint against her about her time and attendance and resulted in an investigation.

However, there were "no negative remarks whatsoever as to Ms. Bonilla's performance in May 2009," the suit states, and "from 2008 to 2009, her "critical elements" rating got better."

Her 2009 evaluation stated Bonilla "has developed good rapport with her supervisor, and consistently provides prompt, professional responses to questions and concerns."

During the time and attendance investigation, Bonilla said she was "unfairly required to document every minute of her day for over a year in order to avoid a 10-day suspension, despite the fact that she was never before required to do so by her supervisor." This "nearly impossible feat" led to Bonilla's suspension without pay for 10 days, resulting in a permanent record suspension.

Garcia said her client believes that the agency failed to consider evidence that Bonilla provided to it regarding the time and attendance complaint.

"Several of her work duties required her to be out of the office, and the office also had no badge in/out policy," Garcia said.

These events led Bonilla to file a complaint with FBI's Equal Employment Opportunity Affairs of employment discrimination on Dec. 7, 2009.

But instead of improving her work environment, Bonilla said she was retaliated against and employees filed several "anonymous" complaints with supervisors about her "appearance, time and attendance and work ethic."

"She was also discriminated against because she is a Hispanic female who received the position she had over Maria Grossetete, and because several coworkers were jealous of her appearance and Latin singing career," according to the suit, which added that "management" also treated her differently "for these reasons."

"The Agency knew that Ms. Bonilla was in fact being harassed and retaliated against," the suit states. "The damage was done as to Ms. Bonilla and the agency did nothing to rectify what happened."

In April 2010, an "anonymous" complaint was made "that [Bonilla's] attire was offensive."

Bonilla "kept management informed of the harassment," but the suit states "they did not do anything to address the matter and told her to come up with specific examples of harassment and provide a report indicating such."

She said her supervisors "retaliated against her by giving her unwarranted lower performance ratings," and she was "continuously told she was going to get a poor rating" by one supervisor, according to the lawsuit.

In 2010, "as a result of everything that has occurred," she was "denied the opportunity to perform her music at an Agency event."

Bonilla "has now relocated to another office in California because of harassment and has since received good ratings at her new location, even obtaining an award," the suit states.

But "the harassment caused [her] a great deal of unnecessary stress for years," the suit states. She "also started having high blood pressure, which is a direct result of the work stress."

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