- Associated Press - Monday, October 20, 2014

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - FBI bosses retaliated against an agent for complaining about personnel decisions, managed by fear and were so dysfunctional that the bureau’s director apologized to the Connecticut staff for problems with local leadership, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.

The agent, Kurt Siuzdak, is a lawyer and 17-year veteran of the bureau who worked in New York City and as a legal attache in Iraq before joining the New Haven field office in 2009.

In his lawsuit, Siuzdak said he was subjected to a baseless investigation when he complained he was passed over for supervisory positions. His wife, Heather Clinton, said in an interview with The Associated Press that her husband was reluctant to publicize internal FBI disputes but saw no other way to address what they see as abuses by managers who allow social affiliations to influence promotion decisions.

“This is an organization that he believes in. It’s an organization that is very powerful. And he wants it to be better,” she said.

Messages seeking comment on the lawsuit were left with the Connecticut FBI and the U.S. Justice Department.

In the lawsuit, Siuzdak says that FBI employment surveys in 2012 and 2013 gave the Connecticut office low ratings for leadership, employee treatment and morale. A January 2013 inspection of the office’s violent crime task forces by FBI headquarters found that, in New Haven, “senior management was described as leading by fear and intimidation, negatively impacting both internal personnel and the liaison relationships with the FBI’s external partners.”

The lawsuit said FBI Director James Comey visited the New Haven field office near the end of last year and apologized to employees for “the failure of the FBI’s executive management to correct the leadership failures” in Connecticut.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for Connecticut, names Attorney General Eric Holder as the defendant and seeks unspecified damages for the alleged discrimination and retaliation by managers. Among other allegations of preferential treatment for favored employees, it says a manager in New Haven routinely failed to work a full eight-hour day despite receiving the FBI’s version of overtime.

“It’s about integrity for him,” Clinton said.

Siuzdak, 49, is an Army veteran who was among the FBI agents to respond to the World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11 and later learned Arabic for two postings in Iraq.

The lawsuit says his difficulties began with the former agent in charge in New Haven, Kimberly Mertz.

Siuzdak accused Mertz of blocking his pursuit of several management positions in Connecticut, where his family has its home. After he filed an equal opportunity complaint, he said, she filed a complaint alleging he was using a bureau vehicle for personal transportation, a serious violation of FBI regulations. After an investigation, he said, he was told the claim was unsubstantiated.

When Siuzdak applied for another position this year, an FBI manager he had been working with in Washington issued a non-recommendation, saying Siuzdak had not demonstrated leadership skills, according to the lawsuit. The suit alleges the manager is a Mertz ally who gave false reasons to block the application.

In September 2013, Mertz transferred to FBI headquarters, where she was promoted to deputy assistant director. She was replaced by Patricia Ferrick, who told Suizdak she would support him for a supervisory position in another field office but not in Connecticut, according to the lawsuit.

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