Agent of Change
11/01/1993 at 01:00 AM EST
SUZANE DOUCETTE PROUDLY REMEMBERS the date she reported to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., for new-agent training—July 16, 1984. The 16-week course began with a four-mile run in 100°F heat. But that didn't matter, she says: "I was really happy."
For several years her career as an undercover and counterterrorism agent went well. She received regular cash bonuses, letters of commendation and reports of "superior" performance. Then in 1988, all that changed. While working in Tucson (where her husband, Brad, also an agent, was later assigned), she says she caught the eye of special agent-in-charge Herbert Hawkins, supervisor of all Arizona agents. Doucette maintains that Hawkins made suggestive comments to her and sexually assaulted her outside a ladies' room in a Tucson hotel while they were on assignment. She also said he told her of "his previous escapades that were unpunished by FBI headquarters." Hawkins, now a Scottsdale real estate agent, says Doucette's allegations are "absolute trash."
Even worse, she endured what she calls a boys' club in the local field office. When she complained about posters of scantily clad women displayed around the office, other agents said that Doucette had sexually provocative photos on her desk—pictures of her daughters, then 11 and 13. And, she says, she was routinely called PMS, bitch and Agent 99.
After five years in Arizona, Doucette, now 39, felt she could no longer support the time-honored FBI maxim, "Don't embarrass the bureau." In April 1992 she filed a formal Equal Employment Opportunity complaint with the Justice Department. Then last May she testified before the U.S. Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, as part of an inquiry into EEO procedures. And the following month she sued the FBI in federal court in Phoenix, charging sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation. Finally, she says, she was placed on administrative leave without pay. Frustrated, she flew from her Tucson home on Oct. 10 to Washington, where she tried to turn in her badge. The FBI refused to lake it. (A bureau spokesman says he cannot comment on her case because of the pending lawsuit.) "I'm very disappointed," she said. "I thought the bureau would be reasonable about this, and it would all go away."
Doucette grew up in Winkelman, Ariz., the only daughter of Anne Edwards, a schoolteacher who raised her alone. (Her parents divorced shortly after she was born.) She first got an inkling of what the FBI might be like when she met an agent al a high school job fair. When she asked him for more information, he scoffed. "He said, 'Little girl, if you work real hard, you can grow up and be a stenographer. We only lake male agents,' " Doucette recalls. (In fact the FBI began accepting women agents in 1972, and now 11.5 percent of the agent force is female.)
After studying music at Central Arizona College for two years—and following the breakup of her first marriage, to grocer Tom Shope—she became a police officer to help support her two daughters, Cyndi, now 19, and Kelli, 16. While Doucette was finishing her bachelor's degree at Arizona State University in 1984, one of her professors there, a former FBI agent, recommended her to the bureau.
During her first assignment, in Sacramento, she met fellow agent Brad Doucette, whom she married in 1986. Brad "has been there for me every step of the way," says Doucette. Even so, he won't comment publicly on his wife's case since he is unwilling, she says, to violate an FBI policy against talking to the press. Fear of reprisal is legitimate in the FBI, says Doucette, who initially tried to remedy her situation through informal discussions with supervisors. As a result, she says, she was repeatedly denied inclusion in a training program that would have advanced her career.
Doucette's experiences were not unique. Kathryn Ann Askin, for example, a former agent from Michigan, submitted testimony to a congressional subcommittee in which she claimed her supervisor told her outright that he "had no use for girls in the FBI" and that he gave her consistently bad assignments. "There's this attitude [in the FBI] that it's us against them," says Askin, who won a 1992 lawsuit against the bureau and hopes to be reinstated as an agent. "And if someone is perceived as a 'them,' it's all over. That's what happened to Suzane, and that's what happened to me and countless other people."
Doucette—who won't see her court case resolved for several years—agrees. "I've already lost my career," she says. "Once you bad-mouth the bureau, it's the kiss of death." The prospect saddens Doucette, who says she still has great respect for many of her former colleagues. "I always had belief in the system," she says. "To have that belief shattered hurts."
MICHAEL HAEDERLE in Tucson, MARGIE BONNETT SELLINGER in Washington and FANNIE WEINSTEIN in Detroit