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Grayson v. O'Neill

October 25, 2002


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 98 C 7907--Elaine E. Bucklo, Judge.

Before Coffey, Diane P. Wood, and Williams, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Coffey, Circuit Judge


The United States Secret Service (referred to hereinafter as "Service") received in excess of 100 complaints (primarily concerning discrimination, solicitation of favors, and favoritism) about the Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Field Office, Ralph Grayson. After it had received the complaints, the Service decided to conduct a management review of his office. The investigation revealed that Grayson not only intimidated and harassed his own employees, but also solicited favors from the public that he was charged to protect. After the investigation, the Department asked for Grayson's resignation. After resigning, Grayson sued the Service, alleging that the Service initiated its investigation into his wrongdoing because of his race. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Service and we affirm.

I. Factual Background

Ralph Grayson (African American) joined the United States Secret Service in 1974. From 1974 until 1993, Grayson was promoted through the ranks of the Secret Service, reaching the position of Special Agent in Charge (SAIC) of the Chicago Field Office. Grayson was the first African American appointed to be the SAIC of the Chicago Field Office, and one of only a handful of African American SAICs in the Service. As the SAIC of the Service's fifth largest field office, Grayson was in charge of 135 agents and Service employees. He was responsible for planning, directing and coordinating all law enforcement, protective, and administrative activities throughout the four-state area covered by the Chicago Field Office, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin. In his first evaluation as the SAIC of the Chicago Field Office in 1995, Grayson received an outstanding performance evaluation and a Senior Executive Service bonus award. Grayson continued to receive outstanding performance reviews throughout 1995 and 1996.

In January 1997, one of the two Assistant Special Agents in Charge (ASAIC) in the Chicago Field Office retired, thereby creating a vacancy. After reviewing a list of 15 agents eligible for the promotion based on their promotion scores, Grayson recommended that Isaiah Mapp, an African American male, be promoted to the vacant Chicago ASAIC position. Despite Grayson's recommendation, Richard Griffin, the Deputy Director of the Secret Service, informed Grayson that he preferred Tom Frost or William Cotter, both white males, for the promotion. Ultimately Cotter was named to the position. Believing that the Service's decision to promote Cotter rather than Mapp was the product of race discrimination, Grayson informed his superiors of his concerns, though he never expressly mentions whom he contacted or the manner in which he relayed his concerns. *fn1

In an unrelated event a few weeks after Cotter's promotion, Karen Whalen, a female Special Agent, complained that Grayson had sexually harassed her and given her "[i]nappropriate and inaccurate criticism in the presence of a non-supervisory employee." Bruce Bowen, the Service's Deputy Director of Investigations, spoke with Grayson via telephone regarding Whalen's complaint and, after completing his investigation, determined that relief was not warranted. But in early March, shortly after Whalen's initial complaint, she received a transfer to an undesirable detail in Gary, Indiana. On March 3, 1997, Whalen lodged a second complaint against Grayson, alleging that he had detailed her to an inconvenient office in retaliation for complaining about him. In response to Whalen's second complaint, Ralph Basham, the Service's Assistant Director of Administration and Grayson's immediate supervisor, authorized an investigation, also known as a "fact finding." Basham assigned Senior Special Agent Karen Barry, a female SAIC from Tennessee, and Norbert Vint, the Executive Assistant to the Secret Service Director for Workforce Diversity, to investigate Whalen's complaint. Because Vint was the Director of the Workforce Diversity Office, Eljay Bowron, the Director of the Secret Service at the time in question, directed him to describe the purpose and function of his office to the Chicago agents by holding an open-office meeting during the timeframe for which he was in Chicago to investigate Whalen's complaint.

From March 24, 1997 to March 28, 1997, Barry and Vint conducted ten interviews during their fact-finding investigation into Whalen's complaint, including interviews of Whalen, her supervisors, her group leaders, and a peer. Barry and Vint also held an open meeting with the agents where Vint presented information regarding his office. After their investigation, Barry and Vint determined that Agent Whalen's second complaint should be dismissed. In the process of investigating Whalen's complaint, Barry and Vint uncovered a shocking pattern of improper behavior on the part of Grayson. In the few short days that Barry and Vint conducted their investigation, more than ten agents independently approached them desiring to voice complaints about Grayson. The complaints were less than innocuous and included allegations that: 1) Grayson received numerous gratuities and other favors for his personal use from private organizations; 2) Grayson retaliated against employees for speaking out against him or his policies; 3) Grayson sexually harassed and discriminated against female employees; 4) Grayson treated African American employees more favorably than other employees; and 5) the Chicago Field Office had low employee morale.

Barry and Vint reported the allegations to Bowen, who instructed the Office of Inspection to conduct a Management Review of the Chicago Field Office. Upon Bowen's request, a Management Review team, comprised of 16 inspectors conducted a two-month long investigation of the Chicago Field Office commencing on April 3, 1997. During the management review, the inspectors received over 100 complaints about Grayson that corroborated the complaints uncovered by Barry and Vint. The inspectors received complaints from such diverse sources as: 1) employees in the Chicago Field Office, 2) the Chicago Police Department, 3) Chicago area businesses, and 4) former subordinates during Grayson's tenure in other Service offices.

The extent of Grayson's improprieties cannot be fully appreciated without a sampling of his numerous condemnable behaviors. Beginning with the least troubling allegations, the investigative team discovered that morale in the Chicago Field Office was abominably low. Out of 82 Service employees, 36 described their morale as low to non-existent, including but not limited to fourteen of the eighteen women in the office. The employees ascribed a constellation of reasons for the morale failure within the office, complaining that: 1) Grayson cared more about the office's arrest statistics than the working conditions; 2) Grayson did not effectively plan assignment and squad rotations; 3) Grayson favored African American agents and gave them preferable training courses and assignments; and 4) Grayson refused to accept managerial input and suggestions from his supervisory agents.

But Grayson did more than depress the morale of his employees. In addition, many employees believed that Grayson actively intimidated and harassed employees as well as retaliated against those who complained about his heavy-handed managerial style. For example, Special Agent John Orloff complained that when he sought to discuss his annual review with Grayson, the ASAIC informed him that: "[t]his is a quote from the boss [Grayson], 'tell Orloff I think he's doing an outstanding job, but if he chooses to come in and discuss his evaluation with me his points may go down.' " Similarly, Special Agent Peter Paradis stated that Grayson attempted to influence his testimony regarding Agent Whalen's discrimination claim by telling him that he knew who "butters his bread." More than a dozen other agents shared similar complaints, expressing the belief that Grayson intimidated his employees and created a culture in which the agents feared reprisals should they cross him.

Grayson's more appalling behavior concerned his negative attitude towards women and wanton and unchecked sexual harassment of female employees. Special Agent Mary Drury was a repeated target of Grayson's unwelcome sexual advances. He told her that her "legs seem to be just fine," commented on her clothing, and told her that "she should look around at the women who have been on this job for a long time . . . [because] they didn't look so good . . . [but that] maybe she was the exception to the rule." Numerous employees complained that Grayson repeatedly ogled and fondled female agents and other employees. His vulgar remarks to female agents include referring to himself as "big dick daddy from Cincinnati," commenting to female agents that if they had not had sexual intercourse with a black man that they were racists and bigots, and advising them that if they tried "a black man sexually . . . [they] would never want to be with anyone else." The investigation even revealed that Grayson had harassed an Assistant United States Attorney by repeatedly telephoning her at home to request dates.

The most serious allegations were that Grayson improperly, if not illegally, required his agents to solicit free services for his personal use from area businesses. Several area business and security personnel (including the director of operations for the United Center, the director of security for Harpo Studios, and the director of security for the Sheraton Hotels) commented upon Grayson's reputation in the community as an official who was always looking for something for free. Indeed, not only did Grayson solicit improper personal favors, but also required that his agents collect the perks squeezed from the local businesses. As with all of his other disturbing behaviors, Grayson ...

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