State Department Wins A Round Against Gay Foreign Service Officer
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled on March 12 that the U.S. State Department was entitled to summary judgment in a sexual orientation discrimination case brought by Karl Olson, a gay Foreign Service Officer (FSO) who claimed that adverse Employee Evaluation Reports concerning his service in Brazil were impermissibly tainted due to the homophobia of the Consul General in Rio de Janeiro. Olson v. Clinton, 2009 WL 635977 (D.D.C.).
Interestingly, Judge Kessler found that there was plenty of evidence to substantiate Olson's charge that some of the officials representing the United States of America in Brazil are homophobic, and that Olson may have been subjected at times to homophobic conduct during his posting there. On the other hand, she found that a decision by the Foreign Service Grievance Board rejected Olson's claim that homophobia had tainted his reviews was not arbitrary or capricious, because she found that the record was also full of evidence tending to corroborate the adverse comments found in the actual evaluations.
It appears that Mr. Olson was controversial in the office due to his manner in dealing with both staff and individuals seeking visas, and the comments in his evaluations reflected concerns that were expressed by co-workers there who were not charged with being homophobic - even some of whom had confirmed in their statements that there was a problem with homophobia in the office.
Some of the nastiest comments were apparently redacted from the written opinion in the case by Judge Kessler, so it is not possible to be completely precise in reporting on what the comments were that caused Mr. Olson to file his grievance. Apparently they were very harsh, or it is likely they would not have been redacted, since it seems that Judge Kessler did quote them but then an editorial process determined that they were not suitable for publication, at least in the opinion as released to Westlaw.
At any event, regardless of the merits of Olson's claim that his EERs were tainted by official homophobia, Judge Kessler's finding about the overt homophobia in the U.S. Consulate in Rio raise independent cause for concern, inasmuch as the State Department has an official personnel policy against anti-gay discrimination. Olson's claims related back to events that occurred during the Clinton Administration (his posting in Rio began in 1993, eight years after he joined the Foreign Service and five years after he achieved a "tenured" ranking), and his claim originally named Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice as titular defendant. Current Secretary Hillary Clinton was automatically substituted as defendant after she was confirmed in as Secretary. One hopes that this ruling will be brought to Secretary Clinton's attention, so she can consider with her staff what needs to be done to reform the Foreign Service ranks to assure that overt homophobia is not tolerated and that individuals who have been shown to be homophobic will be subjected to appropriate correction.